We had heard that Neon, its regular '80s-themed Thursday event, draws a costumed, wig-wearing crowd that dances their asses off. Because we're all about events involving all of the above, the Night Ranger combed out her bright-pink wig and drove out with a blond-wigged Research Assistant Cece.
But when we arrived at the Lawrence bar, we were sad to discover that we were the only ones who got the memo re: wigs. According to some regulars, we were there on an off-night, costume-wise. We left ours on anyway. The Granada drew an energetic, young crowd, though. Neon night turned out to be open to those 18 and older. This was reflected in the cover charge, which was just slightly less complicated than Reaganomics: It varied according to gender, age and time of arrival. (We got there after 10 p.m., so we paid $2 each.) Thankfully, the cheap drink prices benefited from trickle-down economic policy, with $2.50 wells, 75-cent draws and, best of all, $1.75 for 32 ounces of draft beer. We started with whiskey and Cokes and hung out at the front bar in the theater's foyer, a cool lounge with red-vinyl booths, a linoleum floor and multicolored paper lanterns.
After liquoring up, we ventured into the theater, a cavernous space that was fairly packed. The people-watching was fascinating. Duders in their characteristic uniforms of untucked, shiny, striped shirts or North Face jackets grinded into their dates. Women sporting black pants or miniskirts with brightly colored tops danced with each other. A group we dubbed the trench-coat mafia clustered among themselves. One guy was clad in a red duster. The Chiefs' Carl Peterson, with his ubiquitous black-leather duster and quasi-mullet, would have fit in perfectly at Neon.
Most of the frantic dancing took place either on the stage or in the sunken floor area in front of the stage. A massively large video screen added some ambience by showing Valley Girl. As a touchingly young, floofy-haired Nicolas Cage danced at the Valley High Junior Prom, Missy Elliot sang "Work It." That gave way to J. Geils Band's "Centerfold," which had a Chernobyl-like effect: It drove most everyone off the dance floor. However, when "Jessie's Girl" kicked in shortly afterward, it was greeted with shrieks and a rush back to the front.
As we stood to the side and drank while listening to Rick Springfield rhyme moot with cute in his aching ballad, a fey guy with blond hair came up and spun the NR around before dancing off into the crowd. He was rocking the '80s look in a sleeveless red T-shirt, olive hipster pants that tapered and ended at the ankles, and white socklets and tennis shoes. When we spotted him again by the front bar, he cheerily said hello, so we asked if we could interview him. Sam became even more animated. "My dad reads the Pitch," he exclaimed. "He's going to cringe when he sees this!"
So, are you a student? What do you do?
"I am more than a full-time student," he grandly replied. "I am also 100 percent fabulous on the side. What I do is, I go to clubs, shake the hands of people and talk to them." He then called over his friend, 19-year-old Heather, to meet us. She's a lithe, statuesque chick who was sporting a pink tutu.
"You can see my ass completely," Heather said, turning around so that we could see what looked to be her black, butt-revealing boy shorts under the diaphanous tutu mesh. Asstastic, indeed.
By that time, we were ready for more alcohol, so we got a big Miller High Life, which apparently was the only selection going at the front bar. As we recovered from the stunning size of the beer, a woman sitting on the bar stool next to us talked up how cheap it is to drink in Lawrence. She kept trying to convince us to visit Harbor Lights; we wondered if that bar planted her at The Granada to lure customers across the street.
However, after talking to 22-year-old Tricia a bit more, we discovered that she wasn't a shill for Harbor Lights. The Topeka native and social-welfare student at the University of Kansas said she'd been attending Neon for a few years. "Before I was 21, it was the one thing I could do," she said. "It's a big part of my life. That sounds sad." Hey, there's nothing wrong in being a barfly. At least, that's what we keep telling ourselves, before drinking away the pain.
During our chat, Tricia's friends Andrew and Beau came over to see what was going on. The talk then turned to Kansas Board of Education chick Connie Morris. Andrew and Beau claimed to be roommates of her daughter, Jessica. They agreed that Jessica was cool and her mom was a bitch. Beau stumbled through a diatribe explaining his hatred of Connie, and we soon sensed that he was plastered. This became evident when he mistakenly thought that the NR's giant, barely touched beer was his and started drinking it. We tried to stop him, but he had the reflexes of a sneaky monkey.
At that point, Sam came back and requested a second interview. "Part 1 was about what I do," he said. "Part 2 is going to be about what you do." He went on to tell us about ... us. "You make this world so beautiful and so pretty. You talk to people drunkenly and get them to say bullshit that they don't remember the next day." Hmm, that last bit wasn't too far off the mark.
Last call was announced, and everyone filtered outside and hung around on the sidewalk, where invites were issued for afterbars. With the ride back to KC looming, we threw the pink wig in the back of the Night Rangermobile, where it still resides, Tribblelike, today. Until the next '80s-themed outing, that is. They may not remember the '80s, but The Granada's crowd parties like it's 1985.