Where You Can Kick Up Your Heels To Your Feet's Content Dance Clubs With A Wide Variety Of Music And Widely Varying Clientele, And Where You Can Check Your Inhibitions At The Door.

Posted: February 11, 1994

Now for drinks, now for some dancing with a good beat.

- Horace

Two thousand years later, Horace's idea of a good time still resonates.

But where?

Philadelphia friends of my generation - the Boomers - remember reveling at Artemis, Grendel's Lair, the Electric Factory, Ripley's Music Hall, AC/DC, Bacchanal, Second Story, Kurt's - all now defunct.

So where can you dance? Well, there are great live-music venues with postage-stamp-size dance floors, places such as J.C. Dobbs, the Khyber Pass, North Star Bar, Silk City and Xero. Likewise, the larger twin cabarets, Chestnut and 23 East, feature bands in concert, but too often a live performance demands more attention than serious dancers can spare. And the Trocadero showcases such an eclectic mix of musical events that unless you're on top of the scene, you might find yourself one night in the midst of a mosh pit, surrounded by thrashing teenagers diving - yes, diving - into the crowd.

In other words, it's hard to know what you'll find.

The essentials for a good dance club haven't changed much since Horace uttered those words. A great dance club, though, needs a certain civilized atmosphere, style and comfort. Neither singles nor couples should feel awkward, the dancing ought to radiate creative energy (i.e. no elbows), and escape hatches for renewal and calm must be easy to find. Room to move is a priority, and a good DJ - they change nightly at most clubs - is essential.

Here, then, are a few clues to evaluating the '90s dance-club scene. No matter where you go, it'll be more fun than working out at the gym.

AZTEC. "Are we having fun yet?" the DJ yells over the cranked-up music to the frenzied mob at Aztec. "Yeahhhhh!" thunders back the dance floor.

The wooden dance floor is big - and still packed solid with dancing fools stomping to the beat of anonymous industrial-techno "house" music. It's hard to respect another's personal space in such cramped conditions.

Aztec attracts a young, thirsty and carnivorous crowd. Never mind that it's frigid outside; in here, babes are sashaying around in midriff tops and sleeveless spandex dresses. There's a muscular mentality about this place, with hormones raging.

Walking around this disorienting, cavernous, yet crowded, space, with a dragon suspended in air and firewater on everyone's breath, everyone seems to be having fun except me. I feel like the parental chaperone at an out-of- control party, and my shoes are sticking to the soggy, beer-soaked carpet.

The Aztec Club, Delaware Avenue north of Spring Garden Street; 215-574-5730. Dancing nightly 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., Mondays from 10 p.m. Cover varies from $3 to $10. (Occasional live band Tuesday nights.)

THE BANK. Through its gargoyled door, up the stairs and into the Bank, an architectural wonder, where the air is thick with patchouli oil and the scent of black leather.

The medium-size dance floor isn't big enough to contain the revelry - this is late on a weekend night - and the overflow revelers spill into the tiled lobby-esque main room or climb onto the stage to strut their stuff.

I like the shabby chic decor of the Bank with its plush, velvet-upholstered settees, funky murals and star-studded ceilings. The sound system that plays the blend of house and techno dance music isn't so hot, but the light show can be mesmerizing.

There are many rooms to explore and a downstairs bar with pool tables, pinball machines and cuddling couples. The Bank is popular with a young but sophisticated collegiate/grunge crowd, and there's usually a line waiting to be admitted.

The Bank, 600 Spring Garden St.; 215-351-9404. Dancing Thursdays through Saturdays, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: Thursdays, $10; Fridays, WDRE night with drink specials and free buffet, $7 cover before 11 p.m., then $6; Saturdays, $5.

THE BARN. The Barn at the Bensalem Country Club is a curious cross between Twin Peaks' surreal Roadhouse and a strange, eccentric folk-art museum.

Upstairs features a stage for live bands to perform on the weekends; downstairs, a DJ spins a good selection of classic rock and Top 40 numbers for a hip suburban jeans-and-cowboy-boots crowd on a roomy dance floor. Horseshoe- shaped booths and tables provide a respite from the workout.

The spacious old barn is festooned with totem poles, statuary, a tepee and an Indian. Inside, the walls are timber-lined and decorated with western antique paraphernalia, interspersed with tableaux of mannequins and animals, stuffed and otherwise.

The Barn, 2000 Brown Ave. at Hulmeville Road, Bensalem; 215-639-5607. Dancing Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $5 after 8:30 p.m.

BLACK BANANA. The grande dame of Philadelphia nightlife still sizzles with sophistication and decadent intrigue.

On cold winter nights a blazing fire greets the eclectic mix of denizens of the night who frequent the club: men in sleek Italian suits or trench coats and women in long, flowing hippie skirts or cat suits dance side by side. After hours, bartenders and staff from restaurants around the city show up to unwind.

From the video screens, Betty Boop cartoons shift to soft porn. The fluorescent black light adds an eerie glow to the smallish dance floor, where narcissists can dance with themselves in the mirrored wall that borders the floor. This is the only place I've seen dancing on inline roller skates.

The music is house, new wave or reggae - not too high-tech. Jazz in the cafe. Check out the see-through mirror in the upstairs unisex bathroom. The club has a surprisingly good selection of Champagnes and sparkling wines.

The CCC at the Black Banana, Third and Race Streets; 215-925-4433. Dancing Sundays through Wednesdays, midnight to 3 a.m.; Thursdays through Saturdays, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Private club: memberships, $55 a year; $15 for temporary 30- day memberships.

CIRCA. Philadelphia's newest club feels like Manhattan, tastes like Paris and looks like Italian Renaissance. The owners of Xero have refurbished the magnificent Industrial Valley Bank building, which was occupied briefly by the Walnut Federal restaurant, and are raising the city's nightlife to a new level of elegance and sophistication.

The multilevel club has a downstairs dining room (you can eat in the huge vault) and a mezzanine bar that overlooks the first-floor action.

Go early for the fabulous food - but don't expect to see the dance floor. After dinner guests in the main room have finished, tables and chairs are quickly cleared to accommodate the throngs of stylish, beautiful people and Euro-trash who, after mingling at the long, narrow bar (Anchor Steam on tap), couple up and dance to DJ-spun house and WASP pop (Depeche Mode, New Order) between the marble Ionic columns under the cathedral ceiling.

Circa is planning a slew of special musical events and happenings. It's tres chic, so dress fashionably.

Circa, 1518 Walnut St.; 215-545-6800. Dancing Thursdays through Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: Fridays and Saturdays $10 after 9 p.m., $8 after 10 p.m.

CLUB ZADAR. "It feels like we're at a ski resort," my friend comments as we thaw our frosty hands by the fire at the corner of Club Zadar's bar. It is off-season and snow-covered, and New Hope feels like Aspen or Vail.

Indeed, ski bunnies and healthy sporty types soon arrive to prance around the sizable wooden dance floor (flanked by two go-go cages), which has a great view of the Delaware River and picturesque Lambertville, N.J.

Still, something's not quite right: the music videos have no relation to the blaring music, a mix of mostly Top 40, but the DJs take requests and do their best to work up the crowd. Pool tables, a pinball machine and video games are on hand.

Although Zadar is named for a town in the former Yugoslavia, the cozy back room is decorated in an Egyptian motif.

Club Zadar, 50 S. Main St., New Hope; 215-862-5085. Dancing Wednesdays through Saturdays, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.; women's special Fridays (9-11 p.m., no cover). Cover: $4 Fridays and Saturdays.

EGYPT. My earrings set off the metal detector at the entrance. "I'm not going to touch your body, just your coat," the beefy security guard assures me. I have to check the darn coat anyway, but oddly I feel a greater sense of security as I pass through the spacious, atmospheric, palm-tree-dotted, desert landscape of Egypt.

A giant mural of the Sphinx observes the action through the smoke and

lights reflected off the mirror ball and across the gargantuan wooden dance floor. Dancers jump on stage to show off, mouthing and lip-syncing songs.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the Oasis Dance party clientele is primarily mature and fashion-conscious divorcees. Wednesdays and Sundays are WDRE modern-rock nights with the ubiquitous Mel Toxic, and the crowd is casual, single young rockers.

Egypt, Delaware Avenue at Spring Garden Street; 215-922-6500. Dancing Wednesdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.; occasional special events and live bands. Cover varies, typically $3 to $10.

ELI'S PIER 34. Eli's reminds me of that line from The Graduate when the thinking-ahead Mr. Robinson turns to Dustin Hoffman and conspiratorially whispers, "Plastics." Plastic trees, plastic fish, chairs, tables, beer in plastic cups.

Nostalgic photographs of the port line the entranceway, but Eli's decor is a sterilized nautical theme with a wholesome family atmosphere. Even off- season there are lovely unobstructed river scenes from the back bar, where the dance floor is.

It feels like a junior prom, with the spotlight on the mirrored disco ball splaying the spotted reflections all over the nearly empty concrete dance floor. The light system is not music-responsive to the soulful Top-40s hits being played by a DJ. It's an after-dinner, light-dancing kind of crowd, and ended with a slow number - just as in high school.

Eli's Pier 34, Delaware Avenue at Fitzwater Street; 215-923-2500. Dancing Fridays and Saturdays, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: None in the winter.

ELIZABETH AT KATMANDU. Metal gangplanks lead you across the frozen river's edge and into this handsomely refurbished riverboat.

Elizabeth must be the most upscale club on Delaware Avenue, as the fancy coats in the cloakroom attest: men with ties, women in hats and not a black- leather jacket in sight.

The restored woodwork is gorgeous, the design is top quality, and the plants are real, but the club has yet to define itself, except as a more mature alternative to the raucous singles scene of many other waterfront


The dance floor is small and wooden. The music is mainstream classic rock, and the crowd is fortysomething - many couples look as though they learned to dance at the Academy of Social Dancing.

Elizabeth at Katmandu, Delaware Avenue between Callowhill and Spring Garden Streets; 215-627-5151. Dancing Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $5 Wednesdays and Thursdays after 8:30 p.m., $7 Fridays and Saturdays after 8:30 p.m.

HEPBURN'S. Formerly Equus. "I like this place," a friend says, "because no one bothers you. At straight clubs, I'm always getting hit on by obnoxious bores."

Hepburn's, Philadelphia's premier lesbian bar, is a definite haven from the testosterone-soaked clubs. Decor is minimal, and women are dressed in matching casual - with a few ties and suspenders scattered among the crowd.

The downstairs is a bar and restaurant. A cover charge gets one upstairs and into the happenin' dance club, where couples and singles and groups of mostly women let loose to the mix of modern rock and Top 40s, such as Mariah Carey, occasional hip-hop and techno music, depending on the DJ.

Hepburn's is frequented by lots of regulars and consequently has the feel of a private club, where visitors are tolerated if they are respectful.

Hepburn's, 254 S. 12th St. between Locust and Spruce Streets; 215-545-8088. Dancing Wednesdays through Saturdays, 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: Fridays and Saturdays, $5.

IGUANA BEACH CLUB AND SANCTUARY. Formerly Taylor's. The exterior palm trees have died, and the deck is covered with ice, but under the Day-Glo sun inside, tough guys in tight jeans strut, and Coor's Light girls sashay in skimpy bikinis. The greeting at the entrance says, "Friday and Saturday: Party 'Til You Puke!"

Downstairs is the Beach Club, where a mix of classic dance tunes and club, house and a few nostalgic summertime golden-oldies - such as "Under the Boardwalk" - are spun for a languid crowd. Lots of pitchers are sloshed around.

Upstairs is called the Sanctuary but, unfortunately, it provides none. There, a younger singles crowd gets down to a strictly post-modern, techno music beat. The crowded dance floor is enclosed by a metal chain-link fence. The music is incessant, pounding and oppressive to all but the most hard-core.

Iguana Beach Club and Sanctuary, Route 70 West, across from Garden State Park, Cherry Hill; 609-486-1001. Dancing at Iguana Beach Club Tuesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Cover: $5 Tuesdays after 8 p.m., Thursdays after 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays after 10 p.m. Dancing at the Sanctuary Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Cover: $5 Tuesdays and Thursdays after 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays after 10 p.m..

KLUB EXCALIBUR AND PLANET CHERRY HILL. Formerly Mahorn's. Entering Klub Excalibur, guests are greeted by a heavy suit of armor. The decor is a strange combination of heavy-handed Gothic with incongruous splashes of abstract Day- Glo scribbles.

Crystal chandeliers hang over the bar, and black light illuminates the black-and-white-checkerboard dance floor, where modern-day knights with blow- dried hair and disco damsels in sequined vests and mini-skirts boogie down to Top 40 hits and golden oldies as though the 1970s never ended.

In the hallway - a sort of time tunnel to the 1990s - a sign beckons: ''Dare to Enter Another World: Planet Cherry Hill."

Planet Cherry Hill is a cosmic-themed club that caters to a younger, more casual, crowd with what the owners call alternative live bands. Frankly, I don't consider Billy Joel covers alternative. But hey, where else are you going to wear your hot pants?

Klub Excalibur and Planet Cherry Hill, 1875 Route 70 East near Green Tree Road, Cherry Hill; 609-751-7496. Dancing Tuesdays through Sundays, 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Cover: $5 after 9 p.m.

MAIN EVENT. Happy hour is winding down, and the after-work office types have loosened their ties and shed their high heels but aren't ready to take the commuter trains back home on this Friday night. A few cocktails are being dispensed from a high-tech, computer-programmed drink machine, but mostly this is a beer-guzzling crowd. The evening's clientele, dressed in flannels and Doc Martens, was trickling in.

There's little atmosphere except the leftover memorabilia from the sports bar theme - this place was formerly Michael Jack's. Here, professional athletics are glorified, but dancing is undervalued. The complex is huge, but the dance floor is tiny and is identified only by a few lights overhead and a wood square in a sea of carpet. So the dancing - to Pearl Jam, the Cure - is tame, with groups tending to mill around self-consciously and congregate in little cliques.

The Main Event at Market East, Eighth and Market Streets; 215-413-1776. Dancing nightly, 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $5 after 7:30 p.m.

MAUI AND HEADHUNTER'S. A tropical paradise drenched in neon and fluorescent black lights that put the glow in the Day-Glo decor (but makes one's teeth look unnaturally yellow) turns white shirts into blinding fields of light and gives bleached jeans an opalescence.

This spot on the waterfront is populated by exotic birds and fish and a curious mix of beach bums, kissy couples, old hippies and a few modern explorers who play and dance amid the trees, plants and thatched cabanas. It's a comfortable, peaceful place that's fun and relaxed.

It's mostly guys hanging around and shooting pool. The roomy dance floor resembles an outdoor deck set smack in the middle of the room, elevated and separated by wood railings. The music is reggae and funk with an island beat, with dance steps to match. Next door, live bands perform at Headhunter's, a slightly more ominous place, where primitive masks scream from the walls, and primitive totems are festooned with rope and feathers.

Maui and Headhunter's, 1143 N. Delaware Ave. at Pier 53, a half-mile north of Spring Garden; 215-423-8116. Dancing Thursdays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Fridays, from 5 p.m. Cover: $7 Thursdays after 8 p.m., Fridays after 9 p.m., Saturdays after 10 p.m. Friday is WMMR Night Happy Hour and buffet; Saturday is WDRE night.

NEW GALAXY. Formerly the Galaxy, a rock-and-roll bar that has entered the post-modern age with a high-tech laser show engineered to a mix of house and techno music.

The light show is sharp, but the gymnasiumlike dance floor, surrounded by five bars, feels like a boxing ring and smells like a locker room. The dance music is heavy on the beat, and the dancing is primitive.

Elaborate cartoonish, sci-fi, Day-Glo murals cover the walls. Plastic flowers and ivy provide an artificial homey touch. Orbiting the New Galaxy is a mix of locals and college students - big hair, big muscles and ponytails and shaved sideburns. Female bartenders are dressed in spandex aerobic outfits and walk around touting shots of a sweet, blue-hued alcoholic concoction called a Tooter.

New Galaxy, White Horse Pike and Somerdale Road, Somerdale; 609-435-1888. Dancing Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Sunday beach party, 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday is Ladies' Night; Thursday is WDRE nite. Cover: $5.

PLANET ROCK. Formerly The Warehouse. Flaming torches, not klieg lights, illuminate this modern Stone Age nightclub. Pebbles checks your coat; Fred and Wilma are making eyes at the bar.

It's deceptive, this primitive setting, because the irregularly shaped ceiling and the rippled pseudo-stone walls contribute to the great acoustics. The light show is ultra-sophisticated, with a futuristic flying saucer light machine that moves acrobatically, somersaulting through the air. Strobes and neon add to the effect.

On the concrete dance floor and in the go-go cages, some serious acrobatic and exhibitionistic dancing goes on. The music is DJ-spun, a mix of Top 40 and house, with some throbbing Miami sound mixed in.

The back room, dubbed "The Cave," is a cozy "ladies" lounge that features male strippers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Planet Rock, 700 N. Delaware Ave. at Fairmount Avenue; 215-923-0504. Dancing Thursdays through Saturdays, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sundays till midnight. Cover: $3 Thursdays, $6 Saturdays after 10:30 p.m., $5 Sundays before 8 p.m. (in-fashion show at 7).

PULSATIONS. This place in Delaware County is as much about entertainment and people-watching as about moving on the dance floor. The space-age technology is still impressive, but serious fashion crimes and serious boogie- ing compete for attention. I saw some of the tightest-fitting outfits I've ever seen, along with outrageously futuristic hairdos and lots of killer dancing - when was the last time you saw men doing splits?

The crowd (equally divided between couples and singles) is a veritable United Nations of amazingly diverse and eccentric characters, and the DJs play a range of music to please. Pulsations' multilevel layout provides the perfect vantage for surveying the scene and, thanks to an excellent sound system, makes it possible to carry on a normal conversation without shouting, even on the dance floor.

Perhaps the wildest dancer was the man who greeted us with a big "Hello" when we arrived. "Disco Duck," as he is known to the staff, boogies here every Saturday night.

After midnight, the club's high-tech spaceship lands on the dance floor, and the whole crowd joins in for the "Electric Walk." Good vibes, great fun.

Pulsations, 242 Baltimore Pike (Route 1), Glen Mills; 610-459-4140. Dancing Fridays, 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturdays, 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sundays, 7 to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Sundays are all-ages, cover is $8; Saturday cover is $7.

REVIVAL. We walk in one Saturday night, and a young man standing at the bar approaches my date and me. "I'd like to buy you both a drink," he declares with a charming smile. "What'll it be?" Simply a random act of kindness by an actor/musician just back from Los Angeles for the holidays. Nice omen.

It's a motley but friendly black-leather crew in an incongruous setting of painted classical putti and angels. Cupids hanging from the ceiling give this place a romantic touch.

Upstairs, the frenetic dance club is spinning out what is probably the best sound of any place in town. The major sound system, with strategically placed equipment, creates a total experience of techno, house, hip-hop - it really doesn't matter - everything sounds great. Good ventilation on the dance floor helps you keep your cool.

Revival, a former church with its many rooms transformed into lounges and bars, is a midway fun house full of adventures and surprises. Exploring the deteriorating building (left in a divinely decadent state) is like touring the ruins of Pompeii. No separate men's or women's rooms.

Revival, 22 S. Third St. between Market and Chestnut Streets; 215-627-4825. Dancing Tuesdays, midnight to 3 a.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Occasional entertainment (such as Sunday's Tattoo Festival, noon to 8 p.m.; $6), and live bands every Friday. Private club; membership is $40.

RIVER DECK. "This can't be a pickup bar," comments a friend who has heard tales of the River Deck. "They don't even pick up the bottles." Indeed, empty beer bottles are all over the beautifully restored building. The crowd is clean-cut, suburban college students out drinking beer.

The music is DJ-spun Top 40 and modern rock (Wednesdays are oldies nights; Fridays and Saturdays are live WDRE broadcasts). The dance floor provides a nice view of the Schuylkill, but the dancing (shuffling with no rhythm) isn't much.

It is a cold, slow winter night with little of the mingling that might otherwise happen. Mostly groups of guys hanging out looking. Sweaters,

flannels, hunting jackets and a few leathers - nothing hard-core.

The River Deck Cafe & Dance Club, 4100 Main St. at Shurs Lane, Manayunk; 215-483-4100. Dancing Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Thursdays from 9 p.m.; Fridays from 6:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 8:30 p.m. Cover $8 Fridays after 8:30 p.m., Saturdays after 10 p.m.

WOODY'S. Some of my best dancing ever has been in gay bars, where Horace would agree the beat is good.

Woody's dance floor - upstairs from the lively bar and restaurant - is a real scene, with dancers gyrating on the elevated dance floor and raised platforms surrounded by pillars and murals inspired by ancient Greece, spinning mirror balls and a '70s-style light system. It feels like a temple to Adonis.

The crowd is eclectic: construction worker looks mingle with conservative suits and ties and young studs. The music is a varied mix of oldies, modern rock and soulful tunes, not as frenetic as techno styles.

Woody's, 202 S. 13th St. at Walnut; 215-545-1893. Dancing Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays are country and western 8 to midnight; Wednesdays are all-ages; Fridays are country and western 8 to 11 p.m., then disco till 2 a.m.; Sundays are country and western 5 to 9 p.m., then disco till 2 a.m. Cover: $5 Fridays and Saturdays.

comments powered by Disqus