Stumbling Toward Hennepin
It's Brothers, May 23, 1999
WHAT SEPARATES A club from a bar? Nothing more than one distinction: Clubs make you pay at the door for the privilege of being assaulted by deafening music and horny, intoxicated college students, while bars let you enjoy these free of charge. By this definition, the classically collegiate It's Brothers (430 First Ave. N. in downtown Minneapolis) is a club, with a two-dollar cover on Sunday nights that offsets the cost of 25-cent taps after 8:00 p.m.--usually a mouthful of Bud Light in a methadone cup. But if this alleged "drink special" falls somewhat short, the wood-paneled nightspot is still a singular downtown game reserve for people watchers.
In my hooded sweatshirt and cords, I feel practically Amish walking into this swank basement party zone one Sunday night. The joint is filled with booty-shakin' Spice Girls sporting Prada bags and precious little else, grinding to the social-deconstructionist rants of Rage Against the Machine and Marilyn Manson and flirting with the pimped-out suburban G's at the pool tables. The average age here is about 22, the average blood-alcohol level about .22, and when several former Edina-prom-queen types begin exposing their bare breasts and buttocks to the room, no one seems at all shocked. The young guy-guys are a bit more laid back, holding court in the wooden booths and playing pool or darts under the ubiquitous glow of a mammoth-screen TV, displaying--what else--ESPN.
Even with its high, beamed ceilings, Brothers has the feel of a cramped fraternity party. The room is just a little too small and loud, the plastic cups a little too breakable, and the girls are already halfway out of their clothes. The guys watch sports with their buddies because they know they're going to score later anyway.
Banana Joe's, June 10
IF BROTHERS NOSTALGICALLY seeks to recreate a sort of midsemester practice kegger, the newly opened Banana Joe's (15 S. Fifth St. in downtown Minneapolis) aspires to be a club version of an all-out hedonistic, Spring Break par-tay. (It is a club by our definition, charging a cover on weekends.) The 18-kazillion square-foot downtown haven for the Jell-O-shot jet set opened on May 27 and advertises such features as music, dancing, meat sandwiches, bikini contests, "model searches" (which I take to mean bikini contests, but on a different night), ladies' nights, and Eighties nights. (The latter two combine into Ladies Eighties on Wednesdays.) The joint's dollar-drink happy hour, according to management, draws 950 people a day at the national chain's Pittsburgh outlet--a high standard that our municipality should match at the risk of a blow to civic pride.
All the Banana Joe's clubs are owned by the Ohio-based Field Development Company, a self-described "real estate empire" (per its Web site) that has opened 13 clubs around the country. But unlike some of its national counterparts, the Minneapolis franchise doesn't have any foam dancing, the popular (and sexually suggestive) practice of spraying a white, viscous, machine-generated substance onto eagerly awaiting dancers. Russ Jurg, Banana Joe's marketing director, told me a bit defensively over the phone that while other Banana Joe's locations do assist clubgoers in getting wet and sticky, those clubs don't have the "expensive, high-quality flooring" of the Minneapolis locale.
Banana Joe's does have a size-matters aesthetic that can inspire awe on first exposure. There's the spacious hardwood dance floor, a bar with the circumference of a city block, and two long walls lined with low booths covered in uncracked Naugahyde, each with its own private cable TV. A third wall provides yet another shrine to the Sports Gods and ESPN, with a screen as big as my grandpa's pole barn, flanked by two other sets that are closer in size to combines. The fourth wall is lined with doors leading to other parts of the compound, including a smaller bar, a stage for live bands, and a pool-table room with darts.
No less than at Brothers, lust makes this cozy little world go round, but the venue is still new enough to feel like a drooling free-for-all, lacking the social organization provided by cliques. Here the average drooler is old enough to know that the Challenger explosion wasn't some post-homecoming rave. When three companions join me at the club one Thursday night, we're greeted by a courteous waitress in a uniform so revealing it makes Hooters girls look like the staff at Perkins. And no sooner have we placed our order than a budding yuppie in a backward baseball cap starts accusing my date of intentionally sticking his foot out to trip him, thus giving his pledge brother the opportunity to attempt "meaningful" eye contact with me. Meanwhile, a 50-something woman clutching a Coors Light approaches my female friend to break in a few pickup lines, including--I kid you not--"Come here often?"
At just this moment, the DJ drops the laser on the "Electric Slide," that cheesy, late-Eighties wedding-reception hit by Marcia Griffiths, and four dozen young women suddenly rush onto the floor, drinks in hand, and begin line dancing as if some bridesmaid ritual were encoded in their DNA.
Elsewhere, in the pleasuredome's nearby live music chamber, an all-male Seventies cover band called the Shagedelics tears through such pop-funk-disco classics as Chic's "Le Freak" with an air of sexy indifference. The band looks straight out of a K-Tel commercial, down to the leisure suits and faux Afros, but the musicians are blessed with a 21st-century PA so clear it makes other local venues sound like AM radio pumped through a cell phone (that is to say, like Radio K). Though the group officially christened Banana Joe's on opening night, the club doesn't claim them as a house band, planning to book all-original national acts in the near future. "We're getting bands like Fastball and Smashmouth," boasts Jurg. "You may have heard of them."
Still, whether or not Banana Joe's gives First Avenue a run for its money (it won't) seems beside the point. Surely that presentation you've got to deliver to your boss tomorrow morning may not be as easily skipped as an economics midterm. But for young professionals (or young-at-groin, at least) looking for the basest kind of decadent downtown clubbing, both Brothers and Banana Joe's provide the perfect excuse to don your taco pants and act out that early-Eighties, rated-R cable movie you have lodged in your subconscious. Gee, it's getting hot in here.
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