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First, 17th street club Cobalt retired its high-heel ban. Now, it’s doing away with another gay bar tradition: “Bad pop remixes from 1998 layered over a thump-thump beat.” That’s how Michael Adolphson describes the typical music at a D.C. dance club. This Saturday, Adolphson, 26, and Brian Barrera, 27, hope to bend the stereotype with “SHIFT,” Cobalt’s new alternative indie-electro dance night. Adolphson and Barrera talk about why SHIFT is making Cobalt better than ever—-including a scheduled appearance by Ms. Mason 2009!
COME GAY, COME STRAIGHT! “This dance night is built upon one premise: If you play it, they will come,” says Adolphson. “I know that I can’t get this utopian atmosphere of half men, half women, half gay, half straight. But I don’t think that it’s something that we can’t keep striving for.”
LOCAL CELEBS! Confirmed to attend this Saturday is Ryan Allen, George Mason University’s first homecoming drag queen and a newly-crowned local personality. But Adolphson, a friend of Allen’s from GMU, is still unsure what personality to expect. “I asked him if Reann Ballslee would be attending. He said, ‘Maybe, maybe not.’ It depends on whether or not he feels like staying out that late and dancing that hard. I’ve seen him dance really hard as a bloody, murdered Belle from Beauty and the Beast, so I think he could really handle going all out no matter what,” says Adolphson. “I said I think he should do the drag, if he wants to take advantage of his new celebrity. Really, when he’s in drag, he’s a completely outlandish person. But it’s not tremendously different from how he is without a dress on.”
NO THUMP-THUMP! Why is music in gay bars so universally mediocre? “I’ve been asking that since I was midway through college: Why is the same thing playing at every bar we go to? It’s always the same thump-thump beat over the same pop song,” says Barrera. “I think it’s laziness. It’s been the same for all this time. Club owners thought they didn’t have to change it up. People will still come because, where else are they going to go? But music is changing, and the nightlife scene is changing, and nobody wants to listen to that anymore.”
MORE COWBELL! Adolphson promises a diverse set plucked from electro, indie, rap, garage rock, and “even some Blur, if I’m feeling like some Blur,” he says. But what he’s really excited about is a little something he’s putting together in-house. “There are so many songs with cowbell in it that I think are going to be celebrated. ‘House of Jealous Lovers,’ for example.” A photographer friend from New York City has agreed to come down to serve double duty. “He’ll be taking photos most of the evening, unless there’s a song with cowbell in it. During that time, he will be a cowbellist.”
NEW MANAGEMENT! “I originally tried to launch something similar at Cobalt toward the end of the summer, and it fell through—-for lack of a nicer term,” says Adolphson. Adds Barrera, “They changed management there at the end of last year, and [the new manager] made it known that he wanted to make a lot of big changes.” SHIFT is part of Cobalt’s larger shift from a gay club for gay men to a gay club for everyone. “So many gay guys from the city will say, oh, Cobalt—that’s that bar on 17th that I stumbled into, drunk, to do karaoke. They don’t feel the need to go to the gay bar that just plays gay music. It’s boring.”
LESS NIPPLES! “One thing I wanted to make happen was to throw in a female bartender. You can’t really try to attract a diverse clientele if you don’t have a diverse staff,” says Adolphson. “We’re also having the male bartenders put shirts on, so they’re less objectified.”
SHIFT is Saturday, February 28th at 10 p.m. Cobalt, 1639 R Street NW No cover before 11 p.m. / $5 after