Meat Street

Tony Nelson

At exactly 9:30 p.m., the tinkling background music emanating from the downtown Sawatdee gives way to a thumping bass. Outside, women wearing pencil-thin heels prance to the beat, as guys in pressed button-up shirts strut by and swing their arms in rhythm. Happy-hour hangers-on are replaced by legions of barely legal binge drinkers. Screaming crotch rockets supplant SUVs. The weekend is underway.

As the drinking crowd begins its descent on a college bar called Brothers, a kid who looks a few years shy of high school graduation has a question for anyone who will listen. "Hey! Did you see that Waldo faggot?" he shouts, in an apparent reference to a passerby. "He looked just like that dude from Where's Waldo!" He holds his stomach as if this sighting is so hilarious he has busted his gut.

Then he abruptly shifts gears. Down here, almost everyone's looking for affirmation, and Waldo Spotter is no exception. "Do you think I'm cute?" he asks. "For real. Am I cute?" The cops have an expression for guys like Waldo Spotter. He's a parking-lot pimp--too young or too broke to get into the bars, but optimistic enough to cruise the scene in search of the hookup nonetheless.

Inside Brothers, a cluster of twentysomethings on the prowl stands at the bottom of the entryway, fixing their collective gaze upward at the passing ladies. A guy with a blow-up sex doll strapped to his back is doing a little PR work for a pal. The pal is wearing a plastic ball and chain on his ankle and a T-shirt with "Groom" written in black marker on the back. "He's getting married," Sex Doll Guy announces to the ladies. "Will you kiss him?" Then Sex Doll Guy and his buddies clink glasses filled with milky shots, guzzle down the mystery concoction, and nod in unison, as if this were part of a synchronized routine they practiced for a week.

"We took a limo so we could party all night," offers a guy with a short, boxy haircut and a Chia Pet goatee. It's still early, but Chia Pet's eyelids are heavy. He allows that he is about to be married. He then promptly admits to cheating on his fiancée a week ago. "We have an open relationship," he explains. His friends elbow him as they check out a flock of new arrivals. The plan for the night is straightforward: ogle chicks, get rip-roaring drunk, and make the rounds of the downtown strip clubs. "We're for sure going to Augie's," Chia Pet declares. "I hear they have black girls there!" He mouths "Booya!" and pulls his arm toward his chest in a "Yeah, baby, yeah!" lever-pull move.

A Minneapolis cop who works the beat--and who isn't interested in having his name appear in print--says the First Avenue nightlife scene has revved up considerably in the past year. He ascribes this to an influx of more drunk college kids, more strip club patrons, more business folk from Block E, and an ever-expanding number of "roving bands of thugs." Despite spendy cover charges and velvet-roped entrances, he theorizes, the upscale, Miami-style bars that have opened in the district recently have exacerbated matters. "Here, you've got too many different problems converging," the cop adds. "People come here, and the streets are clean, but your mom can't walk down the street here without someone saying something."

The cop allows that he's noticed one other major change over the last year or so. "There's a lot more breast augmentation. It's everywhere you look." As a street saxophonist performs before an indifferent crowd on Hennepin Avenue, two girls hold hands and teeter by in their push-up halter tops, which inspires some further musing by the cop on the subject of breasts. "I don't think I knew anyone in college who had big tits. Did you?" he says. His partner shakes his head no. "If I would've known it'd be that big, I would've become a plastic surgeon," the cop drawls.

Moments later, a guy wearing a pink shirt and a pair of white shades saunters past the dance club Drink. "I'm going to Harvey's so I can get some," he announces to his buddies, looking like some second-tier James Spader. Inside, a group of dancers does the obligatory back-to-front grind as maxed-out bass causes the floor-to-ceiling windows to vibrate violently. It looks like a giant fishbowl, ready to burst. Thump. Thump. Thump.

By the time closing time rolls around, in a parking lot a few blocks away, the chest beating and catcalling and dance music seem far away. But you can still hear the street saxophonist as he blows the familiar strains of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street," and the sound of the thumping bass is replaced by a heartbeat.

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