Choosing the best dance club this year was easy. There were a few strong contenders (the Oz, we tip our hats to you -- and your renovations and your post-sunrise weekend closing time), but in 2004 Velvet really shone. When Lo and Tangerine closed, you'd think the competition would be smug. Instead, the powers that be at Velvet and Rue 13, knowing that St. Louisans were unhappy, took on some of the specialty nights the dead clubs once offered, with little to no skip in the beat. And Velvet just keeps looking forward. A vital anchor on a once-fledgling Washington Avenue, the club continues to make the fancy, redone street a destination with special events like the recent tenth biannual Beat Fest. This music showcase always attracts electronic music heavy hitters to the Lou and preserves St. Louis' spot on the DJ map. So Velvet: Thanks for keeping our city on the dance-clubbing radar, and more important, thanks for keeping the music alive.
But it's a bowling alley. No, it isn't, any more than Blueberry Hill down the street (also owned by Joe Edwards) is an amusement park. Yes, there are bowling lanes at Pin-Up Bowl, but that's just one slice of the pie. There's the awesome retro décor supplied by Kiku Obata & Co., featuring an Art Deco look and red walls plastered in Vargas girls. (Some of the babes were commissioned by Edwards and come courtesy of artist and sometime RFT illustrator Joe Keylon.) There's the drinks, from designer martinis to bottles of Bud. Heck, there's even the overpriced food -- which you should be thankful for, seeing as how you're gonna be drinking till 3 a.m. You wanna bowl? Go nuts. Try to beat the high score, a 257 ostensibly held by local hero Nelly. But if the lanes are full (and they almost always are), don't fret. You can while away many an entertaining hour at Pin-Up without knocking over a single pin.
Just like bar patrons, all bars start to look alike after 1:30 a.m. The patrons become sexier and blurrier. The bars become smokier, more crowded and louder. It's the loud part that sets the Rocket Bar apart. While other bars are willing to let canned music serve as the soundtrack to late-night debauchery, the Rocket Bar uses its glorious jukebox. Watch as cross-eyed indie rockers argue over which My Bloody Valentine track to play while you down one last Pabst (well, okay, two more, but that's it, we swear). Where else are you going to hear Built to Spill or the Pixies at full volume while you mortar in the final brick of tomorrow's hangover?
We go to lounges for many reasons: to listen to music, to sip bright-hued cocktails, to chat with friends. To step out, and then to sit down. To lounge. And when we seek the Platonic ideal of loungin' in the Lou, we head to the Delmar. Looking for all the world like a collaborative design effort between Raymond Chandler and Quentin Tarantino, the Delmar exudes noir cool. The deep red booths, the mirrored bar, the banquettes and abstract art in the back room: There's not a bad seat in the house. And once you find your seat, plan on keeping it awhile. Order a libation, whether it's a martini (a steal at $5), a cold Schlafly draught or a selection from the extensive wine list. Parse the menu and realize that the term "bar food" would be blasphemy here: Instead of going the wings-and-nachos route, the Delmar offers, among other things, steak-and-blue-cheese-stuffed quesadillas and a sublime dish of portobello ravioli. After dinner stay planted in your seat and listen to live music. The Delmar expanded its musical frontiers in 2004, augmenting an already solid jazz lineup. Now you can catch Alexis Tucci and the Hot House Sessions' sizzling world music/DJ/ jazz fusion on Fridays and DJ C-Beyond's mix mastery on Saturday nights. Drink. Eat. Listen. Chilling out never felt so cool.
Just because people tend to sit down while watching Off Broadway's roots- and folk-heavy acts, don't think this south-city club doesn't know how to rock. No matter how understated acts like the Long Winters and Bobby Bare Jr. might sound on record, you can bet that when they show up for work at this multilevel joint they'll be turning the volume knob clockwise. More than twenty years young, Off Broadway appeals mostly to the socially liberal and fiscally conservative (those who like cheap drinks, anyway). But everyone always seems to get along. Perhaps the sitting down has something to do with it.
Showing that all ages doesn't mean kids only, the cavernous watering hole that is the Pageant is tops for youngsters for the same reasons as it is for everyone else: an eclectic lineup, a great location and a comfortable, rockin' ambiance. It's also the only venue where even waiting for the show is a party; the kids in the ticket-holders' line have more fun than your glum denim-clad Rocket barfly. It's the only all-ages venue in town that doesn't fence graying rockers in like unethical CEOs, jailed for the terrible crime of enjoying a beer. Those on both sides of 21 have great sightlines, plenty of space and even a chance to flirt and commingle (within legal limits, naturally). The kids are alright, says the Pageant, but so are you, old timer.
Doubling as a cheap but decent Mexican restaurant during the daytime, Infierno inhabits a small, narrow space with no stage. It also serves as one of the most intimate -- and one of the loudest -- music venues in town. With local and national underground acts a few nights a week -- booked by the Dead Celebrities' own Elvis Kennedy, a man who knows his punk rock -- Infierno shows can drown out half a city block with their distorted noise. We suggest you arrive early if you've come for a show, because the band plays at the front of the room, and walking in late is just asking to get belted across the chops with a thrashing guitar.
The Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, known simply as "the Lemp" to its patrons, is a rock journalist's nightmare. There's no booze, it's usually hot and so packed with kids that you can't lift an arm without knocking off somebody's horn-rimmed glasses. For those same kids, however, and for fans of music that exists solely on the fringe, the Lemp is both a haven and a hangout, and a flat five bucks will open the door to a whole secret world. There is no stage at the Lemp, and no aggressive security staff making sure everyone stays in their place. Instead there's a free-form explosion of energy bordering on a religious service bound by a mutual respect between everyone in the room. Perhaps most amazingly, as the Lemp has become one of the most adventurously booked clubs in the area, it still feels remarkably free of pretension.
"Anybody and everybody's been there over the course of their existence," local hip-hop promoter John (J.P.) Phillips says of the Spotlight, a.k.a. the Spot. He's not just referring to fans, he's referring to artists. "They do more live shows than anybody else, and they have more national artists." A list of acts recently featured at the Spot comprises a virtual who's who of hip-hop chart monsters, including Juvenile, Trillville and Lil' Wayne. But despite its penchant for drawing big names, the place manages to feel intimate, cozy even. Maybe it's the Hpnotiq specials.
Good bouncers never live up to their unfortunate occupational title. The key to good bouncing, then, is never having to bounce, save for when the occasional drunken reveler pulls his pants down and proceeds to light his pubic hair on fire. Okay, kick that guy out. Maybe. Fortunately, Big Dan Telle rarely has to consider such strong-arm tactics, owing in no small part to the fact that Big Dan lives up to his nickname. Granted, Off Broadway's off-the-beaten-path location and deep-fried live-music lineup doesn't attract the sort of hellions who like to start stuff, but equal credit is due the mustachioed Telle, whose easygoing demeanor provides a cue as to how patrons are expected to act upon entry. Such is the mark of a superior bouncer: If Off Broadway served something other than chips and nuts, Telle could just as well go by maitre d'.