Polly Esther's/Culture Club,
332 Fifth Ave. N.,
Open 'til 4 a.m. weekends

Say Cheese!
by Adrian Ryan

WALKING INTO POLLY Esther's is like walking into an orgy of barely legal, bell-bottom-clad kids from the suburbs, fornicating in a loud, smoky sauna. In a city that pays so much lip service to despising mass-market mall mentality and eschewing corporate-driven trends, I was shocked to discover the place packed wall to wall. I guess I had greatly underestimated the power of hype.

So what the hell were these people thinking? To open a dance club with an exclusive '70s and '80s retro theme at the tail end of the '90s seems pretty naive. Especially in Seattle where every major club has already dedicated at least one night a week to dredging up disco and/or bubble gum '80s pop for those scant few who can still bear to listen to the crap. Maybe they think Seattle is so far behind the times that a concept successful in New York almost 10 years ago can be pawned off on the yokels of Seattle, who don't know any better. Maybe they have some secret short-term plan to cash in on one final summer of kitschy retro glory before it becomes, once again, a thing of the past.

Polly Esther's is marketed as two distinct clubs. In reality, it is one great big club with two distinct themes. The first, the Culture Club, panders to the 1980s/Flock of Seagulls/Adam Ant crowd, and is topped off with Pac Man machines in the restrooms and a bar dedicated to the curious '80s phenomenon known as "Max Headroom." Polly Esther's proper is the disco, choked with every cheesy artifact ever associated with the 1970s: Brady Bunch memorabilia, lava lamps, Jaws and Star Wars posters, afro-bearing bartenders, a mesmerizing, high-tech "Saturday Night Live" dance floor, and the (supposedly) original Herbie the Love Bug.

The club's cutely-named specialty drinks are numerous and powerful. After downing about four (or six?) of them (my favorite being The Exorcist, a wicked combination of Goldschläger and Rumpleminze), I was almost drunk enough to bear the heat, the crowd, and the music. But thankfully, my instinct to grow up and move on won out, and I managed to push my way through the teeming, sweating crowd to freedom. Whatever their motivation was for opening such a place, I'll take the Vegas odds that Polly Esther's won't be doing the disco this time next year. Gag me with a spoon.

Loving the McDisco
by Wm. Steven Humphrey

HEY, YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL ME disco is dead. I helped put a stake in its cold, black heart--BUT! That doesn't mean I took that same stake and stuck it up my ass. I still love fun, and I still love to dance. However, the question begs itself: If Seattle is practically brimming with nightlife, then why isn't there one place we can classify as being so fun, it's a goddam hoot? The club owners aren't to blame for this lack of jubilance, because over the years all the fun in the city has been co-opted and strictly regulated by three distinct social groups: rockers, ravers, and gays.

While all three of these groups contributed immensely to the explosion of fun most Seattleites experienced in the early '90s, in recent years, their fun stock has plummeted. Rockers, who once thrashed frenetically to the grunge giants, now slump with arms folded, glassily staring at bands they would rather die to than dance to. At one time, the streets were literally bursting with exuberance furnished almost solely by the gay community. Now, if one happens to spot a drag queen, she's usually yawning. Likewise, ravers, once considered to be the saviors of the dance scene, are now spinning their wheels in a sand trap of the doldrums.

So the question remains: Where's the fun? Well... that brings us to Polly Esther's. I'll admit it: there's so much about this place you want to hate. It's a "chain" club run by a corporation. It's located in possibly the uncoolest part of the city. And like the evil Steven Spielberg, it delights in manipulating your sense of nostalgia. And oh... that stupid, stupid name. But regardless of all that, there's one undeniable truth: people are having fun there. And not the kind of stand-around-and-look-cool fun, either. This is the kind of liberating, "Woo-hoo, I'm dancing like a jackass, and for once I'm not being judged for it" kind of fun that hasn't been seen around these parts in years.

Even when the more annoying aspects of the club present themselves (exorbitant drink prices, the lack of ventilation, and an asphyxiating fog machine), it's still fun. And as for its corporate status... well, so fucking what? You go to IHOP, don't you? Besides, while first-timers may walk in expecting a slick Miami-style McDance club, surprisingly, it's really kind of a shit-hole, and makes the non-corporate ARO.space look like the Taj Mahal.

Just think of it as a gay club for heterosexual goofballs. A funplex for lushes. A place that is admittedly so horribly out of touch, yet makes perfect sense, because it welcomes those who have felt out of touch for years. Don't go alone, but don't take a fuddy-duddy, either. Take the friends who appreciate roller-skating, wearing funny wigs in public, and those who don't mind getting a little sweaty in the name of fun. And so what if disco's dead? The dead can still dance, can't they?

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