When a guy hauls off and tells you that the first nightclub you ever attended as a newly-minted 21 year old is turning 20, you start to crunch some numbers.
"That can't be right," you might grumble to yourself, pushing your readers up your nose. "Can that be right?"
"Oh my damn! That's right!"
And probably, in addition to the incredulity over your own advancing years, is the incredulity that a nightclub can indeed have a 20th birthday.
"It's a thousand years in nightclub years," says Brian Bell, who has co-owned the longstanding club with his partner Todd Koosman for the past decade. The two purchased it from notorious club owner and party boy Johann Sfaellos who had it for the previous ten years. "There just isn't another downtown nightclub that's been around as long, aside from a couple of the gay bars, the Loon and First Ave."
Like most lightning in a bottle, Bell can't point to any one factor to account for its longevity.
"If I knew, I could open one in every city I know, or every street corner I know."
But he does have a few ideas.
First, the club has always maintained an air of the intimate, which they cultivate via three separate spaces, curating separate music programs for each. "So it's three parties in here every night." You want house music? They've got that, natch. But also— Top 40, hip hop, Latin, Reggae, World, and eclectic. The Lounge has never been an enormous colosseum of oontz-oontz where you must scream mightily in order to hear yourself think.
"We don't turn the music up to 15. We want you to be able to have a conversation. We try to go for social interaction as much as possible."
The architecture of the 100-year-old building also makes for an eclectic experience— rather than a migraine-inducing light show dome, it's a labyrinthine corridor of dark spaces and canoodling corners.
They've tried to eschew the idea of a cover charge as often as possible as well (though some special event nights do have a cover charge). "You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on bottle service to come here and hang out with your friends," he says. "I've never wanted to empty people's wallets here. You can come here on Saturday and still have money for Sunday Funday or to pay a bill on Monday."
They've also never hosted an 18+ night, ever, in all twenty years in business. Many clubs do so in order to cultivate a customer base for when those 18 and 19 year olds finally turn 21. They're not aiming for that, necessarily.
As a result of these things, in addition to employing "craft bartenders without the pretension" they attract a more adult crowd than you might think. "You don't have to cross your fingers and hope the bartender knows your drink. And, we're also not just catering to the $11 martini crowd, although we do attract those people, and we want everyone to be welcome here."
How adult are we talking? Sometimes it's an over 30 crowd, and even, occasionally, (gasp) over 40. But naturally, they wish everyone would come, one and all. Which is the true key to their success, Bell believes.
"To have a good party, you've got to have a little of everything. From all walks of life, all genders, all nationalities."
For a place that's been open as long as they have, Bell says they've engendered some serious loyalty, and he can't count the number of engagements, marriages, and even children the club is responsible for. He says they host engagements, weddings (including one zombie wedding) and anniversary celebrations more often than he can calculate, and he's grateful for it all.
"The Lounge has made an imprint on this town. I don't want to say we're a staple— because nothing is a staple if people don't support it."
Want to support it? Want to see it go on another 20? You can start by attending the 20th Anniversary Bash, with all the details below. Bell is hinting at some serious surprises. "We don't want to give it all away, but it's going to be pretty amazing."
The Lounge's 20 Year Anniversary
Saturday, October 24, 2015 10 p.m.
411 2nd Avenue N., Minneapolis
For reservations call: 612-963-3930