Weekend!Nightlife: On the Rocks
"Rockstar' it says, in big letters, on the awnings outside the Dixie Tavern (34 N.W. Third Ave., 503-234-9431). It's 10 p.m. Friday, and the line to get in to this popular club is just starting to form.
By 11 p.m., the queue stretches along the sidewalk. Traffic passing by on Northwest Third Avenue is much thicker than it was an hour ago, its flow partially obstructed by a white stretch Hummer that has pulled up to the curb.
A cluster of Old Town dance clubs is my focus tonight. I'm looking for places with lines out the door, VIP lists, limos outside, and who knows what within - I pass by these places all the time, but I've never been inside any of them.
The first thing I learn is that, in this particular clubland, Friday the 13th is considered a celebration-worthy event.
Barracuda (9 N.W. Second Ave.) is hosting a 'Heaven and Hell' party. This means that the DJ is wearing a hockey mask like Jason in the movie 'Friday the 13th,' and go-go dancers, in a row above the dance floor, are wearing lingerie and feathered angel wings, like Victoria's Secret models.
Barracuda is an enormous club - tonight, with maybe 150 people in the place, it doesn't feel crowded. The dance floor has reached critical mass, though. Groups of friends, and some couples, are bobbing to heavy, pounding beats. One guy is standing still in the middle of the dance floor, tapping on his cell phone.
I don't know if it's in honor of the 'Heaven and Hell' theme or not, but the lyrics to some of the songs are real nasty. In one, my ears pick 'Vaseline,' 'Kleenex' and 'whipped cream' out of a mass of less-well-enunciated words.
A mezzanine runs around three sides of the club, and part of this gallery is cordoned off for VIPs. There's a separate bar area, plus a row of cabanas (seating areas separated by white curtains) with views of the dance floor.
Twenty-two-year-old Katherine McCane and 21-year-old Jamie Andrews are here, sipping cocktails made of Red Bull and vodka. One of their friends turned 21 today, which entitled their party to a free cabana - a $250 value, they tell me.
Barracuda is their favorite club. 'We love it,' says Andrews, a resident of Oregon City. 'They take care of you,' adds McCane, who is from Vancouver, Wash. There are a few creepy guys around, they admit, but they like the music here, so they dance with their girlfriends to avoid being hit on. 'It's the place to be on the weekend,' Andrews says.
Rubbing shoulders and more
Nevertheless, I move on to McFadden's (107 N.W. Couch St., 503-220-5055), just down the street. As I walk up the steps, a guy appears in front of me, jumping around and waving his arms in the air.
'Hey! Hey!' he yells. He appears poised to embrace me, but fortunately, the place is jam-packed and I'm able, with a sharp right turn, to disappear into the crowd.
McFadden's is darker and smaller than Barracuda, and the music has a smoother, more mellow flow. There's no real border defining the dance floor: It's just a patch of turbulence in a sea of bodies.
A tall, slender girl in an electric-blue corset and stiletto heels is attracting some attention. She allows a female friend to hoist her up onto the bar. The friend, in a tight white tube top, then rubs her breasts up and down the other girl's torso.
Once my vision clears, I realize that the rest of the crowd isn't quite so salacious. Most of the girls are wearing high-waisted smocks over long pants. As at Barracuda, the big fashion dilemma for guys seems to be whether the blue stripes on their white shirts should be vertical or horizontal.
Kwame Kiuabo is sitting back at a corner table, two bottles of water in front of him, calmly observing it all. The 32-year-old North Portland resident has brought friends here tonight, including one who is visiting from Australia. He likes this club, he says, although he describes it as a meat market.
'A lot of men looking for women, a lot of women looking for men,' he says. He's not looking tonight, he says, adding coyly, 'but if I was, it wouldn't be a problem.'
Must be worth waiting for
It's getting late, and I've yet to experience actually waiting in line, so I head back over to the Dixie Tavern. It's just after 1 a.m. and there are about 10 people in front of me, waiting to get in. More quickly queue up behind me, including a guy who says, 'They just make you wait to make the place look cool.'
Another guy behind me is warning his buddy, 'They're not going to let me in, dude.' He's wearing a rumpled white T-shirt and needs a shave. He's had rather a lot to drink, he tells me, and in fact, he's unable to list everything he's consumed. He's having trouble remembering the difference between a martini and a margarita.
After waiting about 15 minutes, and having my purse inspected, and paying $7, I'm admitted to the club. Music is playing. People are dancing. Bartenders are pouring drinks.
With all the buildup, I guess I was expecting something more. But the limos outside aren't transporting exotic creatures from a music video, just a bunch of kids in jeans and T-shirts. And Rockstar, of course, is just a brand of soda pop.