After a four-night rock-and-roll bender, I needed to spend some weekend time in the care of DJs. And when you're in need of beat rehab, not just any DJ club will do. You need a place that's dark and cozy, that has a dance floor but isn't just a dance floor. There should be candles on the tables and plenty of comfortable bar stools.
Obviously, the music must be interesting. There should be people dancing, and maybe an upstairs or side room with a completely different feel, as if you're at a rich person's party in some 1970s Manhattan townhouse where a back room reveals a bunch of half-naked people dancing like pagans.
Does that sound beyond the reach of any Kansas City nightclub? Not if it's the Hangout.
It's been about a year since two young fellas bought Bobby's Hangout, which, when it opened in early 2005 with classy d$#223;cor that impressed everyone, was supposed to become a living tribute to dapper black Kansas City nightlife in the '70s. People groaned when they heard that these entrepreneurial young turks had taken over what had been a high-quality, old-guy-run institution. But, you know, sometimes the old guys don't know what the hell they're doing.
I'm not sure whether the Hangout's current owners, Tony Choi and Dan Neustadter, know what they're doing, either, but it's clear that they're having fun and that they want you to, too. I sense an anything-goes policy at the
place, but one that's balanced by scheduled events most notably, rare local performances by out-of-town DJs such as Brooklyn's KRNL.PANIC, who spun earlier this month. But back to the pagan dancing: The last time I was at the Hangout, a smooth jazz band was playing downstairs for an audience of peaceful, older folks in dressy clothes. Upstairs, however, a wild-ass dance party was going on, with DJs playing downright murderous drum-'n'-bass tempos around 190 beats per minute and whiplash-inducing jackhammer noise blasts with ex-ravers jumping around and cheering for more.
Last Saturday, the entire club was cookin'. Downstairs, the third installment of Bembe Night was under way with an all-lady DJ lineup organized by the lovely Madame E, who was at the decks spinning dancehall and Brazilian funk when I arrived shortly after 10 p.m. Most of the crowd was at the bar drinkers using the place as an early-evening stop. The dance floor was empty then, but the slinky beats and reggae-style toasting from the Madame's turntables was a pleasure to sit and groove to.
Next up, the well-reputed cQuence, once a mainstay at the Cup and Saucer, dived into an easy-slamming drum-'n'-bass set full of sugar-rush beats with subtle, wafting chords and vocals on top. The dance floor didn't fill, but as cQuence said later that night, "Not everyone always dances for the DJ. I've come to realize that in the past five years. I don't mind being atmosphere."
The climate changed when AmJanda (of the ubiquitous Jack 'n' Jill) got up to close the night with a 90-minute set of classic and hip-hop-inspired house. A group of enthusiastic dancers finally appeared on the floor, sweating to some the most accessible and diverse house music I've heard live.
Meanwhile, a stream of thuggish types had been heading upstairs. Before long, a snap music party was in full swing up there, throbbing with gangsta hip-hop, crunk and people executing dance moves they must've seen in Bay Area party videos. One guy looked like little more than a big white T-shirt with a rabid ferret inside; his female companion stood with her feet wide apart and her arms and elbows snapping like a fighter in a sped-up kung fu movie. The DJ upstairs (not affiliated with Bembe Night) was Monte-Slick, who spins at the Hangout most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, playing varied sets that only occasionally set foot in get-stupid hyphy land.
Upstairs was all pungent cigarillos, slow beats and fast moves, and downstairs was white kids twirling to the constant 4-4. The entire night brought out the best of several worlds.
That's something I've come to expect from the new best place for rock detox.