Nightlife, Next Exit

Tonight we're gonna party Maplewood-style

The Venue has been doing this kind of brisk business for a while, about four years now. And it's hardly alone. As the Twin Cities' outer-ring suburbs have continued to sprawl, suburbanites have found ways to get their kicks closer to home, courtesy of a growing number of nightspots that have grown up around the outer metro. The days of the wood-paneled suburban watering hole are gone, it seems; these clubs feature decor and amenities that used to be found only in the city. And what's more, these venues are pulling in numbers that are making downtown club managers envious.

Club owners and patrons alike began taking note last fall, when Myth opened in Maplewood in September. The club drew immediate attention with a slew of prominent live bookings ranging from Nickelback and Twista to the old standby Billy Idol. Not long before Myth's debut, another upscale dance club called Valentino's had opened in the old stockyard district of South St. Paul. While the targeted clientele in these bars and others like them may vary—dress codes in some places, quasi-military security in others—they add up to a thriving nightlife scene outside the traditional haunts of Uptown, downtown, Grand Avenue, and the West Bank. On a website called TwinCitiesNightClubs.com, nearly half of the roughly 55 hotspots listed are outside Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Much of this has to do with the changing demographics of the Twin Cities. Practically any owner or manager from these venues will tell you that their clientele is drawn almost exclusively from nearby suburbs and growing towns—even in Wisconsin—and that there's an expansive audience waiting to be tapped. And most of them will acknowledge a truism about the businesses they run—namely that they are integrated, and the crowds are more racially mixed than anything you'd see in the Warehouse District on a weekend night.

The suburban clubs are thriving for several reasons. In terms of overhead costs, it's simply cheaper to run a business in the outer rings. Rent, for instance, can be six dollars per square foot cheaper in Maplewood than in Minneapolis—a significant savings when you consider that most clubs worth their salt encompass at least 10,000 square feet. In addition, bar owners downtown have bemoaned the increasing property taxes in the city, along with a host of sales tax surcharges that have gone toward funding things like the convention center. "Downtown is becoming residential," notes James Ryan, general manager of the Quest in the Warehouse District. "That drives up land values and leads to beautification. Beautification costs money at some point, and we all feel the squeeze."

It's not so much that these places are luring people away from the city—few Minneapolitans seem to be traveling regularly to Blaine—but that people from outlying 'burbs are increasingly disinclined to make the trek into town. For this, the downtown scene is suffering. Patrons' complaints about the prospect of going downtown vary: Parking is too expensive, gas prices are too high, DUI enforcement has become more stringent—and, of course, you can't smoke in the city's bars. Lovaas at the Venue notes that he's seen an influx in customers, mostly black, from places like Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center for the simple reason that they can have a cigarette in his club. And there's some truth to the notion that suburban residents fear venturing into the city for reasons of personal safety.

As Lucas, one KDWB DJ who regularly works clubs in the 'burbs, puts it: "Who wants to truck their ass downtown to get drunk and risk everything else?"

But there's also a cultural dimension. "In downtown, there are certain clubs you go to that are lily-white," Lucas continues. "And there's plenty of people in the local dance scene that aren't into that."

"Of course those bars are racially mixed," says the Quest's James Ryan, who is black, "and you know why? There's not a racial component to them. Downtown places look down their noses at blacks or Asians or Latinos. So they're gonna get shook down and feel unwanted. That racial profiling doesn't go on elsewhere. You go out downtown and take a couple brothers with you and see how hard it is to get in. They all got this preconceived notion of, 'Homeboy ain't got any money.' It doesn't go on outside the city."

Not that these places are necessarily dens of high culture. "People feel they can have a good time," Lucas says. "These are just party bars."

If there's any place that's trying not to be just a party bar, it's Myth. Perched on a sloping hill in a maze of suburban retail strips near the Maplewood Mall, 10 miles north of downtown St. Paul, Myth is perhaps the most unlikely player in the club business. It opened last fall under the ownership of Mike Ogren, a St. Thomas graduate who has operated other bars and clubs in the area for years. Though the official line is that Ogren invested his own personal wealth—as much as $15 million—in converting the space into a premier live music and club venue, others have speculated that there's a consortium of entertainment business investors involved.

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