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Bouncing Around Nightclubs

The other day, instead of actually working, I was reading an article on the disappearance of Philadelphia's club scene and what could be done to revive it. Ever since I comfortably nestled myself into a social life consisting of stand-up comedy in bars and sprawling fandom conventions, I all but put nightclubbing out of my mind. Apparently, I wasn't alone.

While nothing like 80s sitcoms or 90s toys, nightclubbing nevertheless causes me to feel a pang of nostalgia, albeit from a time more recently. Between 2001 and 2004, nearly all of my friends and I hit that magical age of 21 that permitted us access to bars, nightclubs, casinos, strip clubs, cockfighting parlors, Osama bin Laden's video cave, you name it. And, on occasion, we took advantage of this milestone in our lives.

There was only one problem: this was me and my friends that we're talking about here. 

Throughout high school, I became best friends with the guys that the rest of the student body ignored, an ignorance that was of course mutual. My friends had no interest in partaking in high school society and drama; they wanted to hide out from the Neanderthals that roamed our school's hallways, tinkering with computers, playing Dungeons and Dragons, etc. I hesitate to describe us as being cut from the same cloth as the "Trenchcoat Mafia" kids that went on to perform the Columbine Massacre in 1999, as there is no way that our collective laziness would have allowed us to carry out such an event.

So when a group of reasonably unattractive, out-of-shape loner geeks make their way to nightclubs--the real world's version of high school dances--nothing of significance is going to result. It was simply a different wall for us to stand against.  In our finest khakis and dress shirts from the top shelf at Kmart, we fit in there about as well as a salad bar at an Over-eaters Anonymous meeting. We'd conclude every evening by retreating to Denny's or some other local 24 hour diner, sipping bad coffee, chewing on soggy mozzarella sticks, and wondering why attractive women wouldn't go for our advances (standing around ogling them from afar, never saying anything at all to them).

We kept our clubbing restricted to Philadelphia and its suburbs, almost exclusively at four venues.

Shampoo was a club catering to the goth, EDM, and gay scenes, all of which were areas that my mallratting, video-game-playing buddies and I had absolutely zero exposure to otherwise. But, it was a downtown Philadelphia club that advertised heavily on local radio stations, so we decided to give it a few shots.

As people dressed like vampires and Rocky Horror Picture Show extras swirled around us, we sat on one of many velvet seats scattered around the club, watching our fellow patrons gyrate to the brain-shaking sounds of DJ WhoeverTheHellItWas.

The only time we somewhat fit in was at a Halloween event, which is any nightclub's excuse to charge 10-20 times its regular admission price and cram in as many costumed people as possible. I went as Ace Ventura (since a Jim Carrey character from 1994 was totally relevant in 2004) while my buddy went as a priest, wearing his usual all-black attire but affixing an index card to his collar. We didn't hook up at all, but did chat a little bit with some 33-year-old woman dressed up like a fairy.

Egypt was one of many nightclubs on Philadelphia's famed "Delaware Avenue," a busy boulevard running alongside the Delaware River. Clubs, bars, restaurants, and other such establishments dotted the stretch of roadway, with many of them taking advantage of the scenic river location. One nightclub, Heat, suffered great tragedy and, worse, reputation tarnishing after part of its outdoor deck collapsed in 2000, plunging everyone on it into the river, killing three.

Anyway, Egypt nightclub was one of those "17 to enter, 21 to drink" places, meaning that everyone in our group could always get in at the same time. It had the same trance music and strobe lights as any other club out there, all of it situated against a faint Egyptian scene. Chances are, it was the closest any given Philadelphian would get to the real Egypt, which most of them probably couldn't find on a map anyway.

My sisters and their friends would occasionally join my buddies and I on trips to Egypt, marking the only times we ever actually associated with girls in a nightclub environment. Again, while neither I nor any of my friends ever hooked up with anyone at Egypt, my sisters and their friends sure did. Possessing that natural ability to dance that all females seem to possess, even paraplegics, they naturally had far more confident and much heavier-gelled guys pushing right past us to grind upon and fondle them. On one trip, my sister was desperately looking for someone--anyone--to make out with just to push her "total guys made out with counter" from 9 to 10, thus ushering in double digits.

Unlike Shampoo and Egypt, Bootleggers was located outside of the city limits, nestled within a strip mall. Seriously: businesses like a dollar store and Rite-Aid Pharmacy were adjacent to this hopping nightspot.

The club certainly didn't serve as any sort of destination place; its two rooms were pretty cramped and its outdoor deck provided a sweeping vista of the rear parking lot. Not exactly selling points to drive people away from the downtown nightclubs, or even their own boring suburban communities. Rather, the club served as an off-campus nightspot for students at nearby Widener University.

Needless to say, most of our outings to Bootleggers were rather unmemorable. I do recall my buddy Brian visiting the spot while in weight loss mode for the Navy, during the tumultuous five weeks he had to wrap himself in plastic wrap and smear Icy Hot all over his body every day (seriously). "I smell like an old man!" he whined as we sipped overpriced drinks while hugging the wall.

Situated maybe a mile from my parents' house on the Delaware River, this nightspot changed names about 75 different times during my quarter-century of living there. When my friends and I began patronizing it, it billed itself as "The Lagoon," because why not name your hot nightspot after a murky swamp? Somewhere along the line, it became "The Deck," which is an excellent name to give your nightclub when it is located in a climate where its actual outdoor deck can only be used like 4 months out of the year.  

While it underwent several rounds of renovations to compete with downtown Philadelphia clubs, the clientele sadly stayed the same. This particular Delaware County suburb wasn't home to your standard club-hopper, but rather to out-of-shape, blue-collar idiots whose idea of formal wear is a t-shirt with all of the stains the same color. Even if we actually DID talk to girls, none of us would have wanted to take one of them home ("home" meaning back to our parents' house as opposed to her parents' house). 

While lame and depressing, The Lagoon/Deck nevertheless featured two aspects that few of its competitors did:

-A pool table
-A restroom attendant

The latter aspect was particularly unique, as restroom attendants were few and far between in the chain fast food restaurants and other similar establishments we normally found ourselves in. Are we really expected to tip this lonely-looking fellow a whole dollar for handing us a paper towel? Is it rude to decline the towel and just dry our hands on our pant legs to save the dollar?

Today, both Shampoo and Egypt are no more. Bootleggers still survives, but has changed names; The Deck seems to be the only mainstay, though it has added "at Harbor Pointe" to its moniker in its latest attempt to appeal to patrons, despite the club being nowhere near a harbor or any type of "Pointe."

Our nightclubbing days are long over. Most of my friends have since married. After a few years of going to nightclubs and mingling with total strangers, all of them decided to marry people they went to high school with. I, meanwhile, have turned to other social venues, such as online dating and skulking around bookstores.

But every now and then, I feel that little pang of nostalgia and think about going to one of the very few clubs that still exists in Philadelphia to see if the scene is still as I remember it.

Then I'm reminded of drink prices and decide to stay home instead.
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Fulton4V Posted on Sep 05, 2014 at 03:21 PM

There use to be a club downtown that me and my friends would go to in college called Good Times. They had a special drink called the Twister that they were known for and we would get those. It was torn down a long time ago and all that is there now is the concrete foundation.

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