A recap of my personal Slowdown experience, Saturday night: I caught an early movie at The Dundee and got there at around 10:30. The parking lot that had been filled Thursday night had a space open just a few feet from the building. Could this be a trend?
I walked around the corner past the outdoor smoking area (which, for some reason, was surrounded by security guys in black Slowdown “staff” T-shirts) and ran smack-dab into a waiting line maybe 20-people deep. Two young guys got in line behind me and asked about the hold-up. “Sounds like they’re at capacity,” I said. “This could be a while. That means there are 500 people in there. Imagine how long it will take to get a beer?”
Just the mention of the capacity situation caused four people around us to leave the line. The guy behind me grinned. “And I heard the bathrooms don’t work. I bet it smells something fierce in there.” No one budged, but it was a good idea.
By the time we got to the front of the line, the two guys behind me gave up. Fifteen minutes of waiting and I was in, and the place was just as I imagined it — a wall of darkly lit humanity bustling around on Slowdown’s shiny concrete floors, mulling beneath the stage, standing in a queue at the photo booth. While taking it all in at railing, club owner Robb Nansel said hello and I congratulated him on his success. “If this keeps up, you’ll earn another million dollars.” I pointed at the crowded bar. “I’m not even going to try to get a beer.”
He gave me a look. “It’s not that bad. Let’s time it.” So we stood there, but it only took a minute before Nansel was pulled away to take care of some business. Ladyfinger had just ended their set, so the push to the bar was at an apex. Surrounding me was the usual indie crowd I’ve seen at other shows, along with band members and a few beefy young guys with caps turned backwards, probably hoping to scope out some action, but quickly discovering that an indie rock show is no place to pick up some trim. Mixed in with everyone else were older people, relatives of those involved with the club, out to show their support. I likely won’t be seeing them there again.
Ten minutes. Young girls, all under-age judging by the crosses on their fists in magic marker, figured out that if they kneeled up on one of the high-rise bar chairs they could lean over and get a bartender’s attention. It worked. Slowly, I actually began to make progress toward the bar. Nansel came back and tapped me on the shoulder. “Fifteen minutes,” I said. His eyes widened, he grinned and disappeared again. The woman next to me was someone’s relative, down from Falls City. Another older guy said, “Imagine how much beer they could have sold if they had a second temporary bar over here.” Laughs. Then, more waiting.
I pointed out celebrities working behind the bar. There’s Roger Lewis filling a tub with Old Style tall boys. There’s Steph Drootin doing something with a bar rag. I think that dark-haired woman is Orenda Fink. It was like being at The Hacienda in Manchester and having Joy Division or Happy Mondays serving the drinks.
The woman next to me had tag-teamed the bar with her boyfriend — just like when you go to the grocery store with your spouse and each of you pick a line, then switches to the whoever gets to the register first. She gathered up her drinks — everyone was ordering two or three apiece so they wouldn’t have to go through the ordeal again — and looked at me as if she were climbing onto a lifeboat while the ship was sinking, and frowned. Then she became more animated than she’d been waiting for service and began frantically waiving down a bartender. I got distracted by Chris Esterbrooks (Inktank Merch, No Blood Orphan) who asked me to get him an Old Style tallboy if I ever got any service. When I turned around, there was bar manager Ryan Palmer, explaining that I was standing at the wrong place. “You really need to stand by ‘the well.’ We’re going to put signs up sometime soon.” I thought he was going to tell me to move down and start over. But no, he asked what I was drinking.
I remember the e-mail I got from Nansel’s partner, Jason Kulbel, telling me to come by on Thursday: “I think we have a Rolling Rock for you.”
“Give me a couple Rolling Rocks and an Old Style tallboy.”
“We don’t sell Rolling Rock.”
Ugh. I quietly fumed, but realize I’m probably the only guy in Omaha that drinks Rolling Rock. “OK, how about a couple bottles of Bud Light?”
Nope. We sell it, but we’re out. I settled for two Old Style tallboys ($5) — a mistake, because I had forgotten how much I hate Old Style — a beer brewed to taste like it’s been sitting behind the back seat of an El Camino for three hot weeks in July. Skunky. Flat. Horrible. Just how I’m sure other people view Rolling Rock.
So, 24 minutes to get a beer, but what did you expect? It’s opening weekend fercrissakes. What would it have said about the bar if I could have gotten a beer in two minutes?
I know that’s not much of a review of the place, but what more is there to say? The sound system is state-of-the-art. Even and balanced wherever you stood, but not too loud as you couldn’t at least talk/yell at the person next to you — I felt no need to wear earplugs. The sightlines are faultless. The view from the balcony is stellar, and there’s enough room to stand around and chat up there without bothering people around you.
The next morning while getting gas at the A&B I ran into someone who was at Slowdown the night before, a guy who’s a regular at punk shows. What’d you think? “I hated it,” he said with a scowl. “It’s alienating. I felt out of place.”
I wasn’t surprised by his comment.
In some ways, Slowdown has the same albatross hanging over it that The Music Box did. When that club opened, the general consensus was “great stage, great sound, nice and clean.” O’Leaver’s, The Niner and Sokol were the competition — dark, smoky, dirty bars that had been serving drinks for decades. The Music Box, which started out smoke-free, seemed like a nice alternative. Maybe too nice. Maybe a bit antiseptic, a bit sterile, a bit like a Holiday Inn lounge. It never shook that reputation. The fact that they booked mostly middle-of-the-road pop rock bands and rarely booked indie or punk shows added to their vanilla reputation.
Given a choice between going to The Music Box or the dank, lived-in O’Leaver’s was no choice at all. Within a year, The Music Box changed its smoking policy. Eventually, it died, supposedly due to insurance and other money issues. The cursed building that housed it was finally razed last year for a 24 Hour Fitness.
Midtown show-goers will have a similar choice now — between going downtown to the sparkling clean Slowdown or over to the smoky, more lived-in Waiting Room in Benson. The decision will be easy for anyone turned off by Slowdown’s glitz (even though there’s nothing glitzy about the crowd that was there Saturday night). Some people will never feel comfortable surrounded by nice things.
In its defense, The Slowdown is no Music Box. Yes, it’s clean and loungy and boasts a no-smoking policy, but unlike the Box, it knows what it wants on its stage — College Music Journal (CMJ)-style indie rock, and nothing more (or less). That targeted vision will likely see it through it’s month-later doldrums — because you can’t judge the success of this or any club based on its first weekend. Come back in a month, when no band is playing and see how it swings.
Tonight at The Waiting Room, Landon Hedges’ other band, Fine Fine Automobiles with Chris McCarty. 9 p.m., $7.
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