A Moving Target
Liquid, January 22, 2000
LIKE A ROMAN fortress of old, the Target Center casts the shadow of the imperium along the downtown arm of First Avenue. Angular, stolid, eternal, it pleases those weekend citizens come to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's--that is, the better part of a week's salary surrendered in exchange for Pilsner beer and Dave Matthews T-shirts.
'Twas not always so. Legend speaks of a downtown where folks lived, danced, and drank within the same few blocks. But now the legion of party bars encamped in the environs provide safety in numbers to anyone whose ambition is to be assimilated into an anonymous crowd, or to engage in a bit of the frottage on his way to the bar.
In this context Liquid (417 First Ave. N.) is such an anomaly it's almost invisible. Not literally so--the all-age club's two display windows face directly out onto the thoroughfare, one revealing a sitting room where teens sprawl on top of one another, the other showcasing the night's DJ, who faces the sidewalk. The name of the café is written on a small sidewalk placard in elegant lowercase cursive. You can't miss it. But you do miss it--perhaps because you're not looking for it. According to the logic of Minneapolitan urban development, which prefers a limited handful of crammed liquor barns to an array of small dance clubs, Liquid gets skipped in that rush of imbibing we'll call the Minnetonka Crawl.
The club's front door leads directly onto a dance floor that's probably too small for casual foot-shufflers. On the Saturday I slink into the cozy, denlike club, it's just barely possible to evade the gyrations of a tall blonde on impossibly supple ankles as she yanks a reluctant boyfriend off a plump couch and into motion. After matching the intricacy of the DJ's nuevo house with lithe contortions of their own, the partners flop into the seats and some determined suburban b-boys take the floor. Two men on the far side of middle age--both goateed, one with a jaunty beret--bop their heads appreciatively. It's not even 10:30 p.m. (still early by the clubber's clock). Later, as bar time nears, there will be spillover--Liquid is open until 3:00--and the median age will be thrust upward toward adulthood.
With a shifting cast of DJs spanning the range of technoid dance genres, Liquid keeps a schedule as fluid (sorry) as the club's name suggests. Soon, though, the weekly calendar will freeze into standardization. So says owner Ed Rice, who tells me the joint will soon also acquire a performing license, thus allowing DJs to play keyboards and opening the stage to acoustic-based acts.
Regardless, Liquid's potential rests with its distinctive space and young clientele. Already, after three months in business, there are regulars. "There's this crew of kids who dance here every night," Rice says. "They leave together at midnight. I don't know where they come from. I don't know where they go."
Jitters, January 19, 2000
THE KIDS' TWENTYSOMETHING elders are slightly easier to track. Let us taxi up Hennepin to Nordeast, along the path already beaten by my boho forebears--out of Uptown, past the Wedge, through the downtown valley of death, across the mighty Mississippi, to a Valhalla of drafty lofts and cut-rate warehouse spaces and American history quizzes posing as cross-streets. There's been an exodus of sorts, haven't you heard, and its almost the opposite of white flight--downwardly mobile artsy types fleeing the retail-chain gentility for the promise of a genuine neighborhood. And clubs are starting to follow.
Jitters (201 E. Hennepin Ave.) didn't emigrate by choice, of course. If you'll recall, the café/bar was, along with its neighbor establishment The Times Bar and Cafe, evicted from Nicollet Mall when the City signed its treaty of capitulation with Target (see Sound Check, March 17, 1999). Jitters' Northeast incarnation doesn't draw much attention to itself, announced only by a small, unassuming neon sign in its lobby. (No, I wouldn't have thought a neon sign could seem unassuming either.) As a staff member explains, restaurants in Minneapolis are allowed only one external sign. Since the Times and Jitters share an owner, they're permitted only one sign. The more upscale Times, located directly upstairs from Jitters, apparently won the coin toss.
Since Dara Moskowitz has already 'nuff-saided on the Times a few weeks back (see Eaters' Digest, January 12, 2000), I'll descend into Jitters for a look. Imagine a warming, welcoming color. Silvery-gray hardly rolls off the brain, eh? But the café's corrugated metal walls and spray-painted concrete is surprisingly easy on the nerves--the vibe is a mix of Warhol's Factory and the basement your dad always promised to refinish next summer The booths are roomy, with mix-and-match fabrics, while a grand piano lends a just-shabby-enough touch of class.
Like its Nicollet predecessor and the Times upstairs, Jitters features live, largely acoustic music. But not on this blizzard-swept Wednesday. The booked act was justifiably discouraged by the terrifying plague of plummeting crystallized H2O. So was nearly everyone else, except a spooning couple so lost in the hissy prewar trumpet triplets stuttering from the PA they weren't even bothered by the dork three booths over scribbling in his notebook, reading what John Leonard had to say about Luddites, and sipping hot chocolate. Good hot chocolate, too.
Boom, January 19, 2000
STILL FURTHER NORTHEAST along East Hennepin, that selfsame Wednesday, I visit Boom (401 E. Hennepin Ave.), an even newer club opened just a few doors down from where the Terminal Bar was renovated from a neighborhood dive to a neighborhood dive with decent live bands. Boom feels like a neighborhood bar, too--in this case, one that caters to a gay clientele.
When I arrive, gorgeous, glamorous Shania struts across the seven video screens distributed evenly along the walls. Each evening runs with a particular theme--Sunday, for instance, is show-tunes night. Wednesday is comedy night, and newish George Michael videos flicker throughout the room, intercut with quietly audible classic SNL bits and Tracey Ullman skits. But the crowd doesn't appear to have been zombified by the proliferation of visuals. The several dozen patrons who've braved the weather seem to have a lot to say to one another, in fact. Ranging from postcollegiate to middle-aged, everyone here knows everyone, just like in those bars in lite-beer commercials and Aaron Spelling soaps.
Boom is an elegant box of a venue, with brick walls, tall windows, and a high ceiling of intricately patterned silvery-gray (apparently some kind of preapproved zoning color). At the center of the room is an ellipse of a bar with a smaller, oval board hanging above it. And check this--the metal barstools are ass-contoured.
"You taking notes?" the fellow next to me asks. I am. "Are they good ones?" They are.
Dislodged for the evening from my Uptowncentric world, I have stumbled into something approximating a neighborhood. When's the last time a bouncer said "goodnight" to you on your way out instead of shouting for you to down 'em and depart? Who knows: If someone gathers up enough pluck and capital to open a decent record store thereabouts, I might even relocate.
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