By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
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I've never read The Gulag Archipelago, so I don't know if Soviet prison camps had nightclubs. Probably not. But if they did, then Washington Avenue was doing its best impression of gulag nightlife on Sunday during the S.N.O.W. (Sunday Night on Washington) Festival this weekend. There weren't any borscht shooters or guys with fur hats and glow sticks, but there were icy winds and bitter chills deep enough to freeze the most ardent fellow traveler. Oh, and there was a lot of vodka, too.
But I had a job to do, and a lot of other Lou denizens had some fun to do, so the S.N.O.W. Festival went on despite the arctic chill outside. I promised you last week I'd hit all eleven venues, and, Gentle Reader, you can count on me. Here, then, is a quick rundown of what you missed if you were a wuss (or preferred your toes attached to your body) and stayed home.
I usually hit Lo first off on a trip to Wash. Ave., mostly because the small bar, cool and quiet when it is painfully unhip to be there, is like a rave in your first apartment once the crowds pick up. But Sunday, with the aforementioned soul-extinguishing temperature, came with another good reason to visit: hot sake. I had envisioned enjoying the warm little glasses of rice wine in chilly quiet, but St. Louis wasn't going to let a little deathly cold keep it from a good time: The bar was packed. Not the kind of iron-lung-forced-respiration packed that it can be, but still, I was proud of the little burg for standing up to Jack Frost. Of course, Lo, like a bed, needs about three people to be crowded, so only time would tell if the people were really out en masse.
Across the Street at Deep Six, the crowd didn't disappoint, on a number of levels. The dance floor was bouncing to, of all things, House of Pain. But that wasn't the funny part: Above the bar there was a slide show of party pic after party pic, each photo showing a gal a little more Paris Hilton-looking than the last. Finally, after a parade of about a dozen emaciated, faux-bronzed ladies was shown, the slide show slipped in an ad for a gym and a tanning salon. Now that's some targeted marketing.
Tangerine was just as Tangerine always is -- sticky drinks and hip folks -- only more so. So much more so that it was difficult to move forward, so my lady friend and I moved backward.
Velvet truly is the nightclubber's nightclub in St. Louis -- great music (including Charlie Chan in the hip-hop room), a beautiful space with ornately programmed lights and go-go dancers in lingerie dancing on tiny stages. So it felt like a shame to have to move on to Rue 13. Not that there's anything wrong with the place, although it seems like an ill-advised dance club. The dance floor is plopped right down in the middle of the flow of traffic. I've had a good time at Rue before, though, so I'm willing to blame the lame on the still-surprising crowds.
It was smart of the folks at the sushi bar Wasabi to hawk dollar shots of hot sake on the street. Thus fortified, we trudged on to the Ritz, where we witnessed some shameful segregation -- the front room was full of older folks enjoying some jazz and not giving a hoot about the S.N.O.W. Festival, while the back room, with its leather couches and Prince songs, held a crowd a good 30 years younger.
A lot of the movers and shakers in the hip-hop scene consider Isisto be the club for after-parties, and for a good reason. The joint has an after-hours feel even when it's hopping.
If you've never been to Farrago Café, I suggest you check it out as soon as you can. It's the type of personal, warm place that will some day define Washington Avenue as a real neighborhood. Unfortunately, its many charms -- movies, coffee and more -- have nothing to do with music. So, we moved on to the Studio Café, where we had a final beer and some decent conversation.
Ahh, sweet victory. There was only one joint left, Cummel's Café, to complete our lap of the S.N.O.W. Fest.
It was closed, of course. Dammit. That sweet victory was snatched from my very jaws, my promises to you turning to ashes in my mouth. I guess you can't trust me. You shouldn't, anyway -- I'm just the mouthpiece of the Man, anyway. Someday, after the Revolution, when the people have prevailed, folks like me will get taken down and thrown into prison camps. It's okay, though. I can handle the gulags -- I went to S.N.O.W.