Party Down

Tangerine. Lo. The Chocolate Bar. All of them brought to you by the genius of Blake Brokaw. All of them dead. The king of St. Louis nightlife reveals his dark side.

"I'm clean right now. I drink, but I don't use any illegal drugs since my last rehab," Brokaw says.


I MUST WORK 4 FREE
--anonymous graffiti,
Tangerine men's room

In its day, Tangerine won awards for best vegetarian restaurant and best martini and was featured on the Food Network.
Jennifer Silverberg
In its day, Tangerine won awards for best vegetarian restaurant and best martini and was featured on the Food Network.
As manager of Tangerine, Matt McMullin served up martinis with enough booze to fill a one-pint shaker.
Jennifer Silverberg
As manager of Tangerine, Matt McMullin served up martinis with enough booze to fill a one-pint shaker.

Though Tangerine was Blake Brokaw's best-known venture, the story of Lo, a small dance club that opened in May 2000, might better define his personality.

Lo rocked the asses of the hip and beautiful. Poppy Belinda Carlisle's beats mixed into Def Leppard anthems, Michael Jackson became Van Halen while you weren't paying attention. Other nights featured drum & bass, house and a wide swath of international beats, but on Wednesday, a.k.a. Dollar Sake Night, the '80s ruled. Good luck finding a place to hang your coat if it was cold out -- inside it was dripping hot.

"Blake had this concept of this club that wasn't going to make any money -- he just wanted to make a cool place to hang out at," recounts Shawn Collins, who ran Lo, located on 15th Street just off Washington Avenue, for most of its run. "When we first opened, we had this sign outside that said, 'No Ties, No Hippies, No Yuppies.' Just sarcastic. It covered the bases of everybody. We wanted to make a place that was exclusive, but not to an upscale crowd -- to the crowd we wanted to hang out with."

Destined for financial failure, Lo almost succeeded in spite of itself.

"Our drinks weren't expensive. If you're trying to make money, you don't open a place that has a legal capacity of 60," Collins posits.

Even if it didn't make money, Lo did alter the local electronic-music landscape.

"We started getting a reputation with DJs," says Collins. "All these people started wanting to play there all the time. We didn't start out being a showcase for DJs, but it turned out that there was a need for this: People aren't getting this anywhere else, and we can bring these total underground DJs here and they'll play for super-cheap."

Unlike many Washington Avenue clubs, which featured predictable beats for county residents who paid hefty cover charges, Lo was small and eccentric.

"I think every major city needs a place like Lo. It was one of the best clubs in the city," says Amit Dhawan, a managing partner of Synergy Productions, an event-marketing and promotions company, who is intimately familiar with the local club scene. Dollar Sake Night, says Dhawan, was "one of the busiest nights in the city."

But Brokaw was nowhere to be seen. "Right after it opened, he quit hanging out and starting doing his own thing or whatever after he got out of rehab," Collins recalls. "Blake never really came to Lo. Everybody thought it was mine."

"I'm not into the whole DJ scene. That's just not what I grew up with. I like bebop and Tom Waits," Brokaw explains. "I used to hang out when we first opened up, but then I went to rehab the first time, and I stopped drinking, so I really had no reason to be there."

Collins moved to New York City in September of last year. Though he continued to book Lo's DJs and design its fliers from the remote location, it was clear the bottom had fallen out. "Things just started drifting and getting fucked up, all at one time," he says. "Around the same time I was like, 'I've done what I can do in St. Louis, because places like [Lo] don't really do well there.'"

Regarding Lo's demise, Collins says simply: "It just ran its course."

Brokaw cites poor Washington Avenue foot traffic and demands posed by his other enterprises: "I spread myself out too much."

Some blame Brokaw's personal excesses for Lo's closing. But his partying has inspired so much talk that it's hard to know where rumor stops and truth begins.

One anecdote that has made the rounds is based in fact. That would be the one about the time Brokaw jumped off his girlfriend's car, shattering his left ankle and breaking his right knee.

He was drunk.

"I thought it would be really fun at the time," he says of the incident, which took place a year or so ago. "I was bedridden for four months."

To hear Brokaw tell it, though, the years 1997-99 had marked the height of his "rock-star lifestyle." But he declines to go into detail, saying only that he has since slowed down. Having a lot of people depending on you for their livelihoods can wreck the party.

"Something I've been wanting to do is get out from under the entrepreneurial game," he says. "I had 28 employees [at the Chocolate Bar, Lo and Tangerine]. You have to worry constantly about whether their paychecks are going to clear."

Lo closed on June 3. Within a week, Rue 13 and Velvet had absorbed many of Lo's and Tangerine's employees and theme nights. Scott Gilmartin reports a spike in business during the past month.


When the subject of Blake Brokaw arises among his admirers, the image of tortured genius is often bandied about. Shawn Collins doesn't hesitate to describe his former employer and colleague as a visionary.

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