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The kids start lining up 20 deep outside the back door of the Venue relatively late most weekend nights, and on this particular Friday, it's 10:45 before there's any real action on the dance floor. The Venue is actually under the roof of a place called BeBop, which is the anchor tenant in an aging strip mall on 109th Avenue Northeast in Blaine, a good 15 miles north of downtown Minneapolis. BeBop is your standard-issue sports bar, with lines of electronic dartboards, an outbreak of flickering mounted TVs, full ashtrays, and piles of spent pull-tabs. Occasionally a door between the two joints opens, filling the place with the electronic thump of dance music.
"That shit-hole bar next door?" a female BeBop bartender jokes, nodding toward the Venue. "That place will be full in 30 minutes."
Tom Lovaas, who has been the general manager of both bars for four years, has told me he expects to draw about 1,500 clubgoers tonight, a good number of them under 21. Tonight's a KDWB night, meaning someone from the local Top 40 station will be spinning music, the radio station's banners will be emblazoned all over the club, and a $5 cover will get you in (also, drinks are free for women for part of the night). Wednesdays are sponsored by B-96, an "urban" radio station, and Saturdays are 93X nights, where sponsorship from the hard-rock station brings the same kind of specials, if not quite the same crowd.
"It's like this every weekend and Wednesdays," Lovaas says, over the din. "It's the only place like this in the area, and it's the kind of place where people want to go."
Lovaas escorts a reporter and his friend to the front of the line, where paper wristbands are affixed to their right wrists as proof of legal drinking age. We're led to a "VIP" section—a raised section of floor about three feet high that looks out over the club. There is a stamp required to get past the guy working a velvet rope, but it's all yours for an extra dollar on the cover charge.
The club is painted all black, with giant framed photographs of Bono, Cobain, Madonna, Marley, and Morrison adorning the walls. Three DJs in a booth in the middle of the room—slightly larger than the main floor at First Avenue—are segueing Black-Eyed Peas into Sean Paul at a healthy volume, and about 500 people fill the dance floor under a dizzying nonstop light show. Across the way, three girls are doing a sort of soul-train dance on another raised floor—another VIP section that comes with a "bottle charge." To get up there, your group of up to four has to buy a bottle of liquor, usually for $150.
"Those breasts," says my friend Chuck, motioning toward a surgically enhanced blonde manning one of the three beer tubs in the room, "are hilarious." Judging from the line of dudes waiting to get a dollar-bottle of Budweiser, Chuck's opinion is in the minority.
By about 11:15, the club is noticeably more crowded, and Lovaas's prediction of 1,500 patrons seems about right. What's striking, though, is that even though we're in Blaine, the place is hardly all white. There's a large contingent of African Americans, along with a number of African and Latino immigrants. This fazes no one. Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" is followed by "Billie Jean," which is sped up via computer from 133 beats per minute to 137 to match the Stefani tune. The 24-year-old track by Michael Jackson makes the place go nuts.
A group of white girls keeps engaging in what can best be described as a tongue fight, wherein one grabs another by the back of the head and they start making out voraciously. Occasionally some random guy will join in. Usually these impromptu scenes break up in a few seconds. The point, it seems, is less sensual than a burning desire to be seen. Everyone dresses as though they'll be found on an MTV spring break promotion, and everyone seems to have digital or cell-phone cameras. The posing and preening for the camera and everyone else is nonstop, a habit of exhibitionism hardly found at downtown clubs. Clothing, one might say, is nearly optional.
Turns out the ladies all work together at a Wal-Mart in Monticello. "I used to come here all the time," says one of them, Karra Andrews, who says she lives in Buffalo. "But I'm too old now. I'm, like, 28."
One of her cohorts is urging Andrews not to talk to me any more than that. "That's Tiffany, and she's only 21 years old," Andrews continues. "She comes here all the time because she's young. She comes for the boys."
Eventually both of them are explaining why they would rather come here than, say, downtown Minneapolis, even though the drive would be roughly the same, at least for Andrews. "It's not real rowdy, and the bouncers keep it under control," Tiffany Newcombe, who lives in Becker, offers. "From my experience, if I go to [clubs downtown], there's going to be theft, rape, and fights."
Newcombe then says that she isn't racist, but that there are "gangbanger" elements in a lot of clubs that she won't go to anymore, and that, overall, she feels plenty secure in the heavily monitored chaos at the Venue. "I'm here every Wednesday and every Friday, at nine o'clock on the dot," she concludes. "It's all about the free drinks."
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