Nightlife, Next Exit

Tonight we're gonna party Maplewood-style

What Myth does, according to Ryan and other club managers, is take advantage of inexperienced promoters on one hand, or use conections to longtime, well-heeled promoters on the other. Either way, the high rental rates drive up ticket prices, beyond what clubgoers would be willing to pay downtown. Though it may seem counterintuitive, Myth would rather have a big-name act than a packed house, and promoters can sell managers and artists on the state-of-the-art PA and first-class amenities of he club.

"Nobody can afford that," Ryan says, agreeing that bottle charges and venue rental are where Myth makes its nut. "If you're going to try to make all your money back right away, the whole market will get inflated."

Ryan says a normal fee for the bands that Quest and First Avenue like to book would be $4,000 to $6,000, with $10,000 being the high-end charge for theaters like the Orpheum. The end result, according to Ryan, is that the market value for a touring act becomes inflated, and ticket prices jump to cover the artist guarantee. Ryan points to the Billy Idol show, which he says he wanted to bring to the Quest, for what he assumed would cost $8,000.

"Suddenly Myth is outbidding everyone, and the show jumps to $22,000," Ryan recalls, noting that the capacity of his club is 2,200. "Nobody can outbid that; we're too small, we can't sell enough tickets." By the end, Ryan figures, the price tag on the Idol show was $32,000: "Is Billy Idol worth that in this market? No. But that's the starting point next time he comes around."

Sue McLean, a longtime independent promoter in town, says she rarely deals with Myth, because she doesn't book acts the venue is interested in. "The only thing I lost to them was Jonny Lang," McLean says. (Lang's going rate had been around $20,000 for a show; observers estimate Myth paid more than three times that much.) "My niche is not what they're looking for. They're playing with casino-style money."

Still, McLean acknowledges that Myth has been "aggressive in going after shows," and that "relationships probably got ruffled" when promoters started moving shows to Myth. "It's really a location thing, but it's also a size thing," she says. "You're going to see fewer shows at Roy Wilkins."

Whatever the effects on local booking, Myth shows no sign of slowing down. Kehr claims that business has been good through the club's first seven months out of the gate, and there are plans to open a chain of clubs across the country, likewise called Myth, in the suburbs of cities like San Francisco and Houston. For Sue McLean, there's no cause to worry. "From what I've seen," she says, chuckling, "there's plenty of room for everyone to lose money."

If you ask regulars on the suburban club scene about their favorites, you're likely to hear one refrain time and again: You're going to love Valentino's.

The place is an anomaly, housed in a building dating to the 1880s that used to serve as office space for cattle traders during South St. Paul's heyday as a stockyard district. The Exchange Building was fully restored in the late 1990s as a bed and breakfast, which failed, and subsequently rechristened in October 2004 as a high-end nightclub. The owner, Rich DeFoe, declined to be interviewed, but on my second visit I meet Jared Lacina, a general manager. Lacina, a cousin of former Minnesota Viking Corbin Lacina, is 6'-8" and 285 pounds. The crowd, some 1,500 people strong, parts without a lot of urging whenever he walks through.

Between the antique woodwork and decor; the fine Italian restaurant in the basement; and the two floors of club space full of the requisite flat-screens, audio, and lighting; it's evident that Valentino's aspires to be something great. The place is bright, in stark contrast to the black walls still in vogue at so many places. The dance floor in the main level is spacious and open, and small stages featuring hired dancers are tucked around the corners of the room. Intermittent strobe bursts bathe the room in light, and upstairs you can watch the action below from a balcony.

Off the main hallway is another bar, which has its own separate DJ and a hook-up vibe: There are low-slung couches crammed into every corner of the dimly lit room. Perfect strangers sit on each other's laps. But in the end, Valentino's functions like so many other clubs, with the omnipresent Lucas, the DJ from KDWB, the usual playlist of Sean Paul backed with the anonymous thump, thump, thump of the next remix, and, of course, the shot girls.

Lacina readily concedes that it's a strange spot for a nightclub, surrounded by nothing but car dealerships and residential neighborhoods, but he notes that Valentino's rarely has an off night. "This is it now," he says. "Downtown isn't done, but this place isn't for people who like downtown."

Outside, parking is free, and a squad car lingers to monitor the activity there. James Ryan of the Quest gets especially exercised over the advantage suburban clubs enjoy when it comes to parking and club access, noting that city-owned ramps downtown have jacked up prices lately, and the city has started towing cars on First Avenue after 10:00 p.m. "The City Council, like a lot of city councils, is in a crunch and needs to raise revenue," Ryan allows. "But what they don't understand is that it's expensive, it's intimidating for people to get their cars towed, and they're driving people away. Give the people who want to come downtown a break."

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