Every jet-setter worth his Guccis knows full well that discotheques are once again where it’s at for the trendy night-life crowd.

Earlier this year, five particularly swank discos, where patrons boogie to records rather than live bands, were ranked the world’s best by Billboard magazine, the bible of the music industry.

One, Aladdin, is in New York. Others are in Rome, Paris and Madrid.

And the fifth? Right in San Diego’s own backyard: Tijuana.


It’s called Oh! Laser Disco, and when it opened its doors on Paseo de los Heroes, near the new Cultural Center, in July, 1984, its capacity was 115 and its clientele was almost entirely Mexican.

Seven remodelings later, the club now holds 1,300 and the crowd is mostly American. And every Thursday through Sunday night, the scene inside the doors can only be described as a frenzied world of glittery madness, where the atmosphere is equal parts pulsating rhythms, colliding laser lights and “gold card"-flashing beautiful people.

Recent visitors to Oh! Laser Disco, said club spokesman Tomas Perrin, include Clint Eastwood, Tina Turner, Neil Diamond and Pat Benatar.

The cover charge is $5. Inside the main disco, deejays spin the latest dance hits from the United States, Europe, Mexico and Latin America. Strobe and laser lights dance to the rhythm of the music, and patrons watch themselves swirl about the large dance floor on 27 TV screens.


There are girls in stretch pants and bright tops, their eyes half-closed as they twist their bodies to the beat of such red-hot tunes as TKA’s “One Way Love” and Opus’ “Life Is Live.”

Laser lights bounce off their outfits and dazzle the adoring guys, with open shirts and more gold around their necks than Fort Knox, who stand in the aisles surrounding the dance floor in groups of three or four.

A second, smaller disco offers slower, more romantic sounds and softer lighting. Here, couples slow-dance to Lionel Richie ballads or sit at tables and hold hands.

At the far end of the club is an exclusive VIP lounge, with its own bar, where distinguished guests are wined and dined to their hearts’ content. Drink prices at Oh! are comparable to those at U.S. nightclubs.


There are other trendy rock discos around town with similar mixes of Latin and Western dance music, state-of-the-art sound and lights, and flashy decor: Tia Juana Tilly’s, Regine’s, and Rio Rita are some of the other popular ones.

But none is as lavish, as flashy, as opulent, as Oh! Laser Disco--and none is quite as popular with dance-crazed American teens.

Perrin said the club is part of a nationwide chain of six discos owned and operated by the Galicot family.

The family decided to transform their Tijuana warehouse into a disco, he said, and decided that, because of its closeness to the American border, they would have to attract an international crowd.


“They knew they’d have to attract the Americans, since Tijuana is very poor,” Perrin said. “So they took what they had learned from their first disco in La Paz and added to that knowledge by visiting more than 200 discos around the world in a period of less than four weeks.

“When their trip was done, the Galicots made a list of what they felt their Tijuana disco should offer: the high-tech look of American discos, the elegance and comfort of European discos, and the ambiance of Oriental discos.

“And while it’s taken us nearly two years to finally implement all those features, we feel we’re now at the point where we’re just about done.”

The subtle transformation of Oh! from a tiny locals-only watering hole to the undisputed king of Tijuana night life was as expensive as it was deliberate, Perrin said: Total improvements have cost well over $10 million.


But the club’s physical appearance is not the sole factor behind its popularity with Americans. One other reason is the fact that the drinking age in Tijuana is 18, while in San Diego it’s 21.

“That means a lot of kids who can’t get into the clubs in San Diego are now coming down here, since we’re playing much of the same music,” Perrin said.

But perhaps more importantly, he added, is the owners’ aggressive marketing techniques, aimed almost entirely at Americans.

Advertisements routinely run on San Diego rock stations XTRA-FM (91X) and KSDO-FM (KS103). Billboards advertising the club are set up on both major roads leading into Tijuana, one at the San Ysidro border crossing and the other at the Otay Mesa gate.


And like such San Diego discos as Club Diego’s and Confetti, Perrin said, Oh! often sponsors “radio nights” featuring personal appearances by 91X and KS103 deejays and assorted prize giveaways.

“No matter what the political pages say about what’s going on in the world, youth is youth and music is music,” Perrin said. “Discos are the same all over the world, and all we’ve done is try to make ours better than any of the others.”