Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't Stop the Music

Philadelphia isn't known as a nightclub kind of town. It's somewhat sad. If this were the 90s, in any other city, saving Spring Garden's Church of the Assumption would be easy. Turn it into an amazing nightclub. Serve up signature Blood of Christ cocktails from chalices while sushi is rolled across the Abs of Christ atop the crucifix.

Have those comments weeks before Jesus's birthday secured my place in Hell? Don't worry, I'm already well on my way.

I'm not young enough to enjoy the Adderall popping unicorn farts the nightlife scene has become, but I'm not old enough to wax poetic about my glory days.

But I'm going to anyway.

Back in my day, the Roaring 90s, in a distant land of Olde DC, there was a place called Tracks. It was in a terrifying neighborhood, which in 1995, was most of Washington. It's now the site of the Expos Stadium, sorry, I mean the Senators, er, the Nationals. Whatever that sorry excuse for Disney Baseball nostalgia decided to brand itself.

Tracks DC

You know what was nostalgic? A sandpit volleyball court next to a hamburger grill where you could enjoy some mozz sticks, a Potomac polluted cocktail, and jump into a volleyball game with a frat boy, lesbian, goth chick, and a drag queen digging her size 13s into the sand in the shadow of the US Capitol Building. It was a performer being lowered onto the roller rink sized dance floor atop a ten food wide disco ball.

It was fantastic. No, it was fabulous.

Unfortunately I didn't move to Philadelphia until 2003, right around the time that the cast of Friends started marrying each other and the cast of Sex and the City forever ruined the urban experience.

You see, in the 80s and 90s the only people with the balls to live in any American city were those who never left and gay people with nowhere else to go. Despite the routine ignorance that abound the American suburbs, before Ellen came out of the celluloid closet, and the very notion of gay marriage was even conceived, America's cities were something of an anomaly.

They weren't places for convention. Convention found its way here to work and promptly left at five. Daring suburbanites who crossed our bridges and tunnels to dance were too afraid to express any prejudices, or too excited to hold them.

Before Y2K and the War on Terror transformed optimism into fear, America's urban experience was a lawless fantasy. It was Bladerunner, The Fifth Element, it was under the Thunderdome. All those dangerous, terrifying, but wild dystopic futures predicted for the 21st Century have already happened. And they were amazing.

Philadelphia, even with its quant Colonial charm, before Helmut Jahn defied the city's Gentleman's Agreement, was not immune to the Strange Days of the late 20th Century. Today's nightlife scene is largely relegated to Penn's Landing, with few places to dance within the grid of Center City.

But not too long ago, Philadelphia's nightlife didn't end with Dave & Busters or cocktails mixed by the latest celebrity chef at another five star restaurant. It was an experience with no expectations. Not because our standards were low, but because we really just didn't know what to expect. Some of that still lingers in the small streets of Washington Square West and concert venues around Spring Garden.

I saw the Scissor Sisters at the Electric Factory a couple years ago, and despite the fact that it didn't smell like cigarettes and Zima, it felt a whole lot like 1997.

But beyond the venues that remain like Silk City and Voyeur, the positive transformation the city has made with its wonderful restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops, there are relics that linger amongst the streets of Center City. No, I don't mean that 37 year old who just wasted your time regaling you with his glory days.

A few years ago, a friend of mine living in the Adelphia House made an exciting and unexpected discovery in the basement. Most of you know the Adelphia House. Many who regularly follow my blog probably live there because you're cheap and want to live in Center City. I know I've considered it.

Despite the purple carpet that Philadelphia Management Company puts in all of its apartments, it's become a fine building. (But seriously though, what is up with that carpet? Did they buy like a billion square feet of it at a remnant sale twenty years ago?)

The building does have a reputation, though, and that reputation is deserved. In the 80s the Adelphia House, and numerous other defunct hotels in Center City, were synonymous with the Spruce Parker Hotel. They were flop houses. Rent was negotiable, and often by the day, week, or month, sometimes by the hour. Most large cities still have one or two of these hotels, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

But today, the Adelphia House is just another apartment building on Midtown Village's up and coming Chestnut Street. With the exception of one dusty secret. There's a nightclub in the basement.

Beneath the lobby's banal renovation sits what remains of the city's once infamous East Side Club. Just to the right of the lobby's entrance is an inconspicuous door leading down to the remains of Philadelphia's New Wave Studio 54.

After the East Side Club closed it became Kurt's, a gay dance club, and another club after that. Today the space partially remains, or at least it did a few years ago when one tenant accidentally stumbled upon it, its dance floor used primarily for storage.

It's not the only relic of Philadelphia's dormant last days of disco. A couple years ago Michael Borlando published a series of photos on Hidden City inside the mysterious remains of Chestnut's Hale Building.

Michael Borlando

As with much of Chestnut Street's lingering blight, the Hale Building has gone from housing budget retail to abandonment. Once the site of Drucker's Bellevue Bathhouse, a gay sex club, the remaining interior is more than just a target for urban spelunkers that have largely left the building alone, it's an essay to a bygone era.

Clinging to the past is a futile effort to cling to youth. My wild nights at Tracks, like any young Philadelphian's night at East Side Club or Kurt's, were largely a product of naïve wonderment. I've been to Voyeur. The music is still the same, the smoke filled atmosphere is the same, the only thing that's changed is my perception. Once an experience I never wanted to end, dancing until the sun came up, today, it would be absolute Hell.

Likely for the best. Successful cities change, and like cities, so do our relationships with our cities. I still enjoy a night of dancing, but it ends in my bed around midnight, not at Midtown Diner as the sun comes up.

Whatever the future holds for the Hale Building, the basement of the Adelphia House, and the city's nightlife scene, people will always find a place to dance as long as the music never ends.

1 comment:

  1. The basement of Adelphia, formerly the East Side Club, Kurts, etc. is now the home of Crossfit Center City. Still lotsa sweating going on, but not from dancing 'til sun up...