Clubland: 1991-1994

One of the first things I did upon arriving at the Mercury News in 1986 was launch a weekly news-and-notes column to cover the nascent nightclub scene bubbling up in San Jose's redeveloped downtown. After five years, the kibble-and-bits format became tiresome and I decided to take the column in a different direction. Each week I would devote the space to a single venue. The unspoken contract between myself and the reader was this: Each Friday, I'll pick you up and take you somewhere far removed from the ordinary. Chances are you'll never actually patronize these establishments yourself. So the vicarious trip's the thing.

I started in January of 1991 with the Saddle Rack, San Jose's own Texas-scale answer to the legendary Gilley's honky tonk mecca. By the time I wrapped up in 1994, it seemed as if I'd visited every biker bar, gay dance club, leather bar, blues dive, karaoke parlor and faux-Polynesian tiki-torch cocktail lounge in the greater Bay Area. Give me any dark room packed with people drinking, dancing, groping and screaming above the roar of an 800-watt sound system and I'll tell you a story.

Eventually, just to keep things interesting, I added a small cast of recurring characters, the people who would regularly accompany me on the Friday night forays. My spouse became the Fun Consultant, often the voice of sober-sided common sense. And there was Iron John, this critic's fearless and ever-thirsty Sancho Panza (who was, in real life, my insurance agent for a while). Some weeks the column was more about sociology and suburban culture than about nightclubs. And sometimes the venue was just a platform for a writing exercise. Could I do an entire column on a North Beach Beat poetry and jazz shrine as an extended Neal Cassady stream-of-consciousness riff? Well, let's find out. I had the benefit of working for some great editors. David L. Beck, Dean Wright, Robin Doussard and Holly Hayes all understood and supported what I was trying to do.

Looking back at some of the dubious establishments I visited, I have to wonder how I got away with it for so many years. There were many nights when Iron John and I would find ourselves in the middle of some scene so patently debauched that he would be moved to ask, "Dave, tell me again. What are we doing here?" We could only shake our heads and laugh.

The Saddle Rack, Jan. 18, 1991
El Rio, Feb. 15, 1991
The British Bankers Club, July 5, 1991
Zapp's, July 12, 1991
The Carlos Club, Aug. 23, 1991
Ashkenaz, Jan. 10, 1992
The Hotel Utah, Jan. 17, 1992
Knuckle's, Feb. 14, 1992
Bottom of the Hill, April 24, 1992
The Tonga Room, June 5, 1992
The Catalyst, July 3, 1992
Cat's Alley, July 17, 1992
DeMarco's 23 Club, July 24, 1992
Thunder Bay, Sept. 25, 1992
The Lanai, Dec. 11, 1992
J.J.'s Lounge, Feb. 12, 1993
Cafe du Nord, April 30, 1993
Spike's, May 14, 1993
The Iron Gate, June 18, 1993

Main index
David Plotnikoff's home page