Club Nights


I'm late. It's 11:46 p.m., and I'm still on Peña Boulevard, about ten minutes from DIA's arrival area, and my phone rings. It's Paul, my older brother. "I'm here," he says. Crap.

Paul has been punctual his whole life. He's the eldest of three, a foreign-born son, the first in my family to graduate from college. He's the good one, the responsible one.

I'm the one who is perpetually late. But as the youngest, I'm also the favorite, so I get away with a lot. I am the cool kid sister, the one with the cool musician friends, the cool hair and the cool job — you know, the broke one.

Paul spent his youth working and studying, getting married and having cute Vietnamese-American babies. Then he hit his thirties, got divorced, moved to California and bought a scooter. He works in Pasadena now as an engineer (or doing something with computers, I can never remember). While on tour, I visited him there. I could smell his neighborhood from inside the van; the main streets around his suburb were lined with Asian bakeries, Chinese herbal shops and Korean restaurants. See, my brother is something of a stereotype: dates Vietnamese women, good at math, drawn to Asian-populated areas and, of course, particularly punctual.

But tonight he doesn't seem to mind that I'm fourteen minutes late. The first thing he asks about is the club scene. Paul is the kind of guy who has it in his mind that all youth culture is the same, that rave kids party with punkers, that indie girls listen to techno, that goth-heads are down with bro-dudes, and that I am at the center of it all. "Is Polly Esther's still around?" he asks. "That was a fun place." See, my brother is also something of a square.

It's a little after midnight now, and Paul wants to go drinking. Or watch a band. Or go dancing. Or do anything, really, because he's been on a plane all day and he wants me, the cool kid sister, to take him out.

I suggest Danceotron at the hi-dive. He asks if that's in LoDo.

No, I say, it's on Broadway, where a lot of cool bars are. He's surprised to learn that Denver has more than one nightlife district. I start to tell him about SoCo and SoBo, about the Loft and the gentrification of Five Points. And I start to think that the alterna-crowd of twenty-somethings at Danceotron might be too much of a culture shock for him. Maybe we ought to go to 5 Degrees or Tryst, someplace where he can mingle with other young professionals and buy fashionable cocktails.

Aw, fuck it, I decide, I can't hide my scuzzy rocker lifestyle from my family forever.

We first stop into Sputnik, the hi-dive's next-door lounge. Paul orders a Jäger bomb and a Long Island iced tea. Amid the hipster youth, he looks uncomfortably sober. His dark-blue Armani sweater over a collared shirt is totally un-ironic, and everyone around him suddenly seems really tall and oppressively white.

I suck down a whiskey and orange juice and take him over to the 'dive. DJ Sara T (aka danceolady Sara Thurston) is at the helm, spinning her brand of electro-booty and '80s/'90s dance. The open floor is mobbed with the sort of clubbers who exist on the margins of the LoDo scene. These are the dance-punkers with their electroclash-meets-electronica mindset and iPods jammed with acts like the Klaxons and Shitdisco. This is the new rave — but without the neon glow sticks and obnoxious hype.

Danceotron itself is much older than this recent, PR-induced throwback to mid-'90s Manchester glory days. Self-billed as "Denver's No Bullshit Dance Party," Thurston's now-six-year-old baby started out in an inconspicuous warehouse space, and the once-a-month shindig has since popped up at various clubs and bars all over town, including Bender's Tavern, the Marquis Theater and, most frequently, the hi-dive. It's outlasted a number of similar-styled parties and still consistently draws a horde of dance-happy kids every month. The crowd is especially charged tonight because it's Thurston's birthday.

My brother is on the floor, dancing like a thirty-something-year-old engineer, with (another) Long Island in one hand and his feet awkwardly bouncing around. But he's having a good time, and I can't deny that. He's impressed with Thurston's deejaying and is thrilled at her selection of mid-'90s clubland hits, which remind him of his high school days spent at infamous venues like the now-defunct Hollywood Legends.

At closing time, Paul is buying Thurston a birthday tequila shot and laughing out loud at the sour-alcohol face she makes after shooting it. He takes another shot, too, and afterward, though he whines about wanting to continue drinking, I take him home. What a strange role reversal. On the drive, he smokes a cigarette for the first time in three years and gives his assessment of Danceotron. "Everyone was kind of smelly," he says. "And there weren't enough Asians."

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Tuyet Nguyen