Live in the lounge

Looking for fun on the casino dance floor

BATTLE OF THE SEXES <br>Gold Country Casino puts the emphasis on putting on a show inside its swinging Spirits Lounge, with acts like the hyper and racy Dueling Pianos.

Gold Country Casino puts the emphasis on putting on a show inside its swinging Spirits Lounge, with acts like the hyper and racy Dueling Pianos.

Photo By Jason Cassidy

Here’s something you’ve heard before: “For a town with so many college students, Chico doesn’t provide many entertainment outlets for those lost souls under the age of 21,”

I know I’ve heard it before. Hell, I’ve said it before. I’ve been saying it ever since I moved here 17 years ago. But you know what? I’m starting to think that there still isn’t anything fun to do now that I’ve added those 17 years to the 19 I started with in Chico.

Maybe Chico isn’t such a happenin’ place after all?

Sure, if your age is in the 21 to 23 range there are plenty of likeminded souls willing to band together and make a party out of things, but if you are an of-age adult who wants to “go out"—not just for dinner and a movie, and not just to roam the circuit gettin’ your drunk on—and take in a show, dance and laugh it up with a date or a group of friends, what is there to do? Join the mustache crowd at one of the mid-life crisis bars? Suck it in and squeeze into the downtown crowd? How about the free entertainment of the lounge scene?

“Lounge scene” you ask? “What lounge scene?”

That’s what I wanted to know. Recently, I’ve noticed that each of the four casinos within a 45-minute drive of Chico now have lounges, or mini nightclubs, and that every weekend each is advertising free live music, and it occurred to me that maybe these places are where all the fun is goin’ down. Maybe what I needed to do was hit the country roads and visit all four of these hot spots on the reservation with the wife over the course of one Saturday night and find out if there is some scene that we’ve been missing out on. Maybe there would be a little Vegas nightlife hiding in them hills, or maybe there would just be the sad rooms of Bill Murray’s infamous S.N.L. lounge singer, with a Nick Winter-type making up the words as he worked the room?

“Ah, Star Wars! Nothing but Star Wars! Gimme those Star Wars. Don’t let them end/ Ah, Star Wars! If they should bar wars, please let these Star Wars stay-ay!

Bow & Arrow Lounge
As you leave Oroville driving south on Hwy 70 at night, there’s no mistaking which road is the turn-off for Feather Falls Casino. It’s a little after 8 p.m., and just past the billboard advertising “Extreme Trucks” and the casino’s new K.O.A. campground, a steady stream of taillights and headlights funnels down the two-lane Ophir Road and disappears into the foothills.

BRAND X <br>Reno’s X-Force dance through a bar-top set of oldies at Feather Falls Casino’s Bow & Arrow Lounge.

Photo By Jason Cassidy

Outside the casino, the soothing tones of breaking water splashing down Feather Falls’ rocky facade are soon enough overwhelmed by the bells and plinks of gaming and an unexpected fog of cigarette smoke that greets all who enter.

Now would actually be a good time to offer a little bit of a disclaimer: I don’t really like to gamble, and I don’t smoke. And, while I do enjoy a cold beer here and there, I don’t even really drink. So, as the women of Reno’s X-Force welcome us into the Bow & Arrow Lounge to the chorus of Madonna’s “Holiday,” it would be fair to say that the Mrs. and I were feeling pretty far out of our element at our first stop of the night.

The first thing you see as you enter the lounge tucked in the corner of the casino is the huge cigarette machine. It’s worth mentioning because it’s not your daddy’s cig dispenser with a handle you pull out to release a hidden pack below. This thing is like a snack machine with each smoky flavor stacked 20 deep and on display under a bright light. But I digress.

The lounge is a little confining, with tables and chairs filling up the room. The casino-circuit band goes through a passable set of oldies and Motown covers—"Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “My Girl,” “My Guy” (it’s a medley, c’mon!), “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg"—with the dual frontwomen throwing in the only dance moves to be had in this lounge.

The bandstand in the Bow & Arrow is situated high and behind the bar. It feels like the musicians are being kept out everyone’s way, so that the patrons can take a pit stop between gambling jags: Pull a plush chair up to a table, let the muted pulse of dance tunes wash over you and then get back out on the casino floor.

Spirits Lounge
Gold Country Casino (& Hotel!) is pretty much right in the city of Oroville, but the place still sneaks up on you. As you round a bend in Olive Highway it’s startling to see the glowing face of Cedric the Entertainer shining down from heaven to welcome you to the massive new building.

Right away, the vibe inside is much hipper than that of its Oroville cousin. The place is huge and wide-open, with an energized (and much happier looking) cross-section of young and old out for a night of fun.

Spirits Lounge is where the energy is flowing from. Tonight it’s the Dueling Pianos, and as we step inside and beneath the room’s starlit canopy, it’s refreshing to see that the focus here is on putting on a show.

The guy/girl duo is facing off across two red grand pianos, as three cocktail servers ham it up on the stage behind them, doing their best to keep pace with a frenetic rendition of “Hand Jive” (you know, that song from Grease). And the hundred-or-so revelers are eating up.

AFTER MIDNIGHT <br>The dance floor is open all night at Jack’s Lounge inside Colusa Casino Resort.

Photo By Jason Cassidy

It’s all pretty standard cheeky showmanship, with the pianists making jokes at each other’s expense and engaging the whooping audience with racy comments (miming “Joy to the World” with particular attention paid to identifying “all the boys and girls"), but they’re seamless and it’s a blast. They do dueling banjoes on pianos, a battle of his/hers versions of “Great Balls of Fire” and best of all, a rousing sing-a-along of Garth Brooks’ “I Got Friends in Low Places.”

There’s still no dancing, but taking in a brainless and engaging (and free) show and having a cold soda with a loved one (sober driving for this reporter) definitely qualifies as a good time. Put a bar band, a country band or a swing band in this room and the place would be jumping.

As far as having a real “night out,” Spirits is the place.

Jack’s Lounge
Is the singer roaming the audience with her cordless mic? Yes. Does the keyboard player push the stadium applause button after the song? Naturally. Is the guitar player in charge of corn-ball inter-song banter? Now, what do you think? (I’m not just being mean. The guy probably has it written on the setlist: “Pour on the cheese” in parenthesis after “Hollaback Girl.")

It’s midnight, and the Rebekah Chase Band is singing to the late late-dinner crowd. The drive down from Oroville, to Chico and out the levy to Colusa Casino Resort makes the hour feel much later (not to mention the fact that the wife is probably smoke-free and cozy in bed after begging-out of the second half of the lounge quest).

It’s a comfortable scene. The kind of place Mom and Dad would go to get in a little dinner and low-impact dancing after droppin’ a quick hundred on progressive slots. You got your taco salad, three flat-screens-worth of sports and Rebekah and crew getting you on your feet with a little cowbell and “China Grove.”

Carlino’s Nightclub
When you underestimate how far apart the towns of the North Valley are from one another and overestimate your ability to party Vegas-style, there’s bound to be at least one regret. No, I did not actually make it down to Corning and the newest member of the lounge circuit—Carlino’s Nightclub at Rolling Hills Casino.

It was after 1 a.m. when I climbed into the parking shuttle at Colusa Casino, and so I missed out on the Alternators’ Valentine’s promise of “top-40 dance music for sweethearts.” I will say that the folks at Rolling Hills are a friendly bunch to speak with on the phone, and that they are hip to a lot of the local music in the area (the club hosted a huge bill of local blues bands for the memorial in honor of the late Bill Zongker last month), so keep an eye on the Carlino’s calendar if that’s your thing.

So, what’s the final verdict on the lounge scene? Sad to say, there isn’t really much of a scene. Each casino’s lounge offers its own particular outlet, but the only notable connection is that each is housed in an Indian gaming facility. Plus, no matter which way you go, if you’re stupid like me and try to do any Nor-Cal lounge-hopping, the price of gas’ll kill you.

My advice: Hit up Gold Country with a select crew of fun-loving friends. Pack on a 20 oz. piece of beef at the casino’s Steak House, take in the free show at Spirits and if you’re drinking, sober up at the nickel slots. And remember, what happens in Oroville, stays in Oroville.