By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
I'm a sinner. I admit it. I indulge in each of the seven deadly sins on a fairly regular basis; but there are two sins in particular that I share with most other writers: sloth and gluttony. Not to disparage my colleagues by painting them with the same brush I use to paint myself, but there seems to be something in the writer's brain that loves ease and food (and, truth be told, drink) more than the average person. And it was these two sins working together that drew me to the opening party for the U Lounge.
Sloth, because the new University City club is a scant block from the RFT office, and gluttony, because the invitation contained those words so near and dear to my heart: "open kitchen." The U Lounge, just across Eastgate from the venerable Delmar Lounge, is connected to the just-as-new pan-Asian bistro 609. And that, my friends, is how you get a journalist's attention.
The U Lounge is aiming high and hip, with the sort of minimalist décor and features more common on Washington Avenue than on tried-and-true Delmar. In fact, it was a little too trendy for my tastes: Seats in the club are simple cushioned cubes (back support is out, apparently) that can be tucked into shelves to make way for the dance floor, and the bare brick and concrete combine with the lighting to create an atmosphere more chilly than hip.
The "open kitchen" turned out to be trays of tasty beef skewers and shrimp tempura that came around far too rarely. The music was great, though. The Hot House Sessions were in the house (along with DJ Needles), and maybe that brick and concrete was good for something: The acoustics are outstanding for a small club, and the jazz-dance combo sounded great. I'd only seen the Sessions play at Nik's Wine Bar, and seeing them at U Lounge confirmed a theory of mine: No matter how great a bar it is (and Nik's is one of the best in town), and no matter how good the band is (and they book a lot worse than Hot House some nights), Nik's shouldn't book live music. Some places are okay with music blaring and bouncing off the walls, and some places require music with volume control that allows for conversation. U Lounge, with its unisex bathrooms and backless seats, isn't going to become the home of the new Algonquin Roundtable anytime soon and is fine with ear-bleeding decibels.
Along with the new "hip" bowling alley/bar Pin-Up Bowl, the U Lounge is pointing in the direction the Delmar Loop is heading. Both literally -- the two venues are placed further east than most Loop destinations (besides, of course, the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria of Delmar, the Pageant) -- and in the sense that they are aiming for a younger, more upscale crowd. (Closer, again, to what they're striving for on Washington Ave.)
I think it will work. While the Ave. has its devotees, the Lex-Luthor-as-good-guy machinations of Joe Edwards cannot be stopped. He's got a plan for those blocks east of Skinker, and he knows how to pull it off. Hey, he brought us Blueberry Hill and the Pageant: Do you doubt him?
Speaking of Blueberry Hill, after the U Lounge I headed to the Duck Room (where the food costs money, but you certainly get enough) to check out the taping of a new TV show called Audaphobia. Still in negotiations over what channel they'll air on, hosts Mark Bland and J.T. Hennings play videos and bring a local act to the stage each episode. Some scheduling mix-ups left the taping pretty much devoid of a studio audience, and Bland and Hennings' overwritten banter needs some polish. But there's always room for one more local TV music show, so I hope it goes well. They're certainly doing a good job with the booking. Future guests include metal monsters Riddle of Steel and rap contender J-Kwon; the taping I hit featured Bullovard, the newest addition to Nelly's Derrty Entertainment posse. Live hip-hop is a dicey thing, and the sound was muddled, so it was hard to make a snap judgment of the performance. But the single features a sample of, and is named after, the Bobby Brown smash "My Prerogative," which certainly sounds to me like a cash-money idea. Bullovard and his crew had the good-natured yet blinged-out charisma that is quickly becoming a St. Louis hip-hop trademark. Now that Brown is known more for hitting Whitney Houston than for hit singles, somebody ought to run with that song, and it might as well be Bullovard.