Suburban nightlife used to be an oxymoron. Or at least a contradiction worth mocking with gleeful malevolence.
But the more I scour the 'burbs for good nightclubs, the more spots I find that scream, "Mock us if you dare, we will spit on your downtown arrogance and eat your heart for breakfast." Or something like that.
So here I am last Friday night, barrelling down Hwy. 77 on what Mapquest tells me is a 25-minute journey from Minneapolis to my destination:
An adventure in Apple Valley.
This southern suburb is home to Bogart's (now called Bogart's Nightclub, as its general manager would like me, and everybody else, to note).
Bogart's opened 17 years ago -- grandpa years, by downtown-nightclub standards. But on weekend nights, this club, which also houses a smaller dive bar and a 24-lane bowling alley, can fill to capacity.
Bogart's, if you hadn't guessed, is named after Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart. Yep, old ugly-face himself. That might seem a bit out of date for today's nightclub scene, but its younger patrons don't seem to mind -- or notice -- the "Casablanca" murals still plastered on the walls.
Over the years, the club carved out a live-music niche in this area "south of the river" (as locals call it). But with the sprawling retail and business scene in Apple Valley and neighboring Burnsville, Bogart's has seen competitors spring up. While it gets big crowds for bands such as G.B. Leighton and Hairball, Bogart's is now trying to set itself apart with a couple of themed club nights.
To dissuade clubgoers from traveling north to Minneapolis for dancing, general manager Brian Moe recently hatched an idea to bring downtown to the 'burbs. On Thursdays and Sundays, he imports downtown DJs and go-go dancers. The club even has "naughty nurses" on Thursday -- costumed women who offer Jell-O shots in faux syringes.
Last Friday looked like a good time to check out this new attitude. While Bogart's doesn't do a lot of live hip-hop, Moe didn't see the club losing with that night's performer: Tone Loc.
Yes, that Tone Loc, of "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina" fame. Not exactly Kanye West, I know, but c'mon: Tone Loc, rocking the 'burbs almost 20 years past his prime? I had to see this.
The night started with some warm-up fun in the club's Back Alley Tavern, where karaoke rules. I considered bowling, but passed on it, sad that the "moonlight" bowling -- when they put on the black lights -- is only offered on Saturdays (and those nights are so popular that you need to make a reservation days in advance).
When it was finally time for Tone Loc, I squeezed up front, as the club was nearly filled to capacity. One of the those downtown DJs, Chris Castle, was finishing his set. It was his job to get the crowd ready for the platinum rapper who has starred in such films as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "Surf Ninjas" and "FernGully: The Last Rainforest."
When he finally took the stage just after 11 p.m., his voice sounded every bit as deep and harsh as it did in 1989. Pure gravel.
"Oh yeeeeah, Apple Valley in the house!" he said, throwing the crowd into a frenzy.
His head was shaved and adorned by those trademark black sunglasses -- maybe the same pair he's worn since "Wild Thing." In plain jeans and a black T-shirt (no bling), he went through his hits, frequently inserting the words "Apple Valley" to make the hometown crowd happy.
As I looked around this crowd, I thought to myself: Wow, these people are having a lot of fun. Not only that, but they know how to have fun. From twentysomethings to soccer moms (baby sitters south of the river must've made a killing that night), the crowd was diverse, dressed in all sorts of wildness and actually dancing. Not all of it was good dancing, but that didn't matter. Nothing mattered except having a good time. In suburban clubs, I've found, there is less pretense, less inhibition.
And that's cool.
Tone Loc thought so, too (he would later hit the dance floor himself, mingling with clubbers). He ended the show by admitting that it was his first time in Apple Valley, and that he approved of its awesomeness:
"There ain't no party like an Apple Valley party," he growled.
Right you are, Mr. Loc. Right you are.
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