Goodbye Zootz…

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Ah, Zootz.

That dank, overcrowded, sweaty hole of a nightclub was host to many a fond high school memory. By the time I was 18, I was attending Zootz’s chem-free all-ages nights at least twice a month. After waiting in line to get inside for what seemed like forever, my friends and I would shake our money makers to cheesy `80s music into the wee hours.

Zootz was never boring. There was room for every kind of human being – the old and unstylish, the young and flashy, jocks, preps, freaks, gay kids and straight kids. There was no club like it in Portland. I often described Zootz to newcomers as “the Studio 54 of Portland.”

I stopped going to Zootz when I turned 21 last spring, but the club never lost its popularity among the next generation of local teens who lined up to get in night after night.

Since Zootz closed three weeks ago, I worried its absence would leave a vacuum in local entertainment for minors.

Instead, at the time Zootz was closing, new hot spots were opening their doors to minors, changing the atmosphere of Portland’s nightclub scene. Also ending at the time of Zootz’s closure was hip-hop open mic nights at Stone Coast, often a popular hangout for the 21-plus crowd thanks to the bar’s dollar drafts.

In place of hip-hop and `80s music, techno appeared to be all the rage, enraging Portland city official’s harsh animosity to anything “rave-like,” thanks to a major drug bust at the Metropolis nightclub a couple of years ago.

So after several clubs recently changed their tone to reveal a prominent beat – a “thump-thump-thump” if you will – bringing live DJs to their stages to attract a younger audience, Portland Police took action.

At press time, The Free Press staff learned that Portland is enforcing a new ordinance that will require any nightclub offering entertainment after 1 a.m. to get a special license. Apparently, only a few of these licenses will be made available.

It seems these underage dance nights may not last beyond the grumbling of Portland Police and city officials. Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure, though. Decent dance music is finally rearing its head in these northern parts, so join the kids and reserve your right to indulge your money maker in some rump shaking while you still can.

The following clubs were offering new additions to the after-hours dance scene before police intervened. It’s possible that these clubs will survive the city’s red tape, but at press time club owners said to call ahead to find out whether they’re still open.

The Station, 272 St. John St.

Jay “Just Jay” Williams says he was involved in the New York club scene for years. After living in Maine for the past two years, the 22-year-old is now trying to bring an urban flavor to the old spice of Portland.

Williams, a chef who moonlights as a DJ, recently began working at The Station, the new restaurant/club on St. Johns St. The Station took over space in Spot Shots, a pool hall in the basement of Union Station Plaza. At the time, The Station was trying to make money as a comedy club, but wasn’t attracting enough of a crowd.

“The owner wanted to know how I could get more people,” Williams said. “I told him, `If you take that comedy club and get in some turntables, you’ll get a ton of people.”

To Williams’ surprise, the club already had a mahogany DJ booth, a professional stereo system, a disco ball and smoke machines. With Williams connections to other local DJs, a dance night was born.

It has been over a month since the Station began hosting dance nights on Fridays, 21-plus from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., and all-ages from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. His usual lineup of DJs includes his roommate Teddy Ted, DJ Nicotine, LB, Mike Said, and rotating resident Cuttarug, who plays every other week.

“The DJs I have are my very good friends,” Williams said. He said the music style of the dance night is “very, very intelligent funky house music, like disco house.”

Williams said so far the size of the crowd has been “pretty nice,” and he hopes to draw even more people once he installs a hip-hop night on Saturdays. He said there have been no problems so far, and the club has hired bouncers from Stone Coast to watch over the crowd.

While the timing of William’s new dance night happened to fall in sync with the closure of Zootz, it appears to have been pure coincidence.

Nevertheless, Williams has taken on this new dance night with careful planning and professionalism.

“If I was in New York, this is the kind of thing I would do,” Williams said. “I’ve been in Maine long enough to feel comfortable doing this.”

Tickets to DJ night every Friday at The Station are $5 until 1 a.m., and $8 after 1 a.m. With a flyer (Williams said about 1,000 flyers are distributed throughout town at places such as Bull Moose), you can get in free before 10:30 p.m. For more information, call 773-3466.

Club 619 (a.k.a. Thirsty Dog Tavern), 27 Forest Ave.

Unless you are in on the local rave scene, you probably haven’t heard about this club yet.

That’s because Geoffrey Dardia, coordinator of the “club” inside the sportsbar Thirsty Dog Tavern since last month, wants to keep the place exclusive – just for a little longer.

“It’s people who know people who bring people,” Dardia said. The 24-year-old from San Diego brought his West Coast philosophy to Club 619, which stands for San Diego’s area code. “Basically, a group of friends just grows and grows,” he said.

Club 619 exists only after-hours, and is 18-plus after 1 a.m. Conveniently, the club is right next to the former Zootz site, although Dardia insists his new dance nights began before Zootz shut down.

Dardia also insists that the club has nothing to do with raves, and wants the place to stay low key for a little longer. He plans to advertise for dance nights in March. Until then, Dardia, who also works at Moose County Music and Surf, says you either have to know the right people or participate in extreme sports like skateboarding and snowboarding to get into the club.

Or, you just have to be female. “I always let chicks in,” said Dardia.

There is a dress code, Dardia says – “no baggy pants, no crooked hats.”

He said he has some major techno talent lined up to play at the club, such as Alchemy, a group on the same record label as John Digweed (a.k.a Bedrock).

While the rest of us wait for Club 619 to open its doors to all, the Casco Bay Weekly reported that local DJs say the club has been packed for the past few weekends.

Tickets to Club 619 for dancing on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights are $5 until 1 a.m., and $8 after 1 a.m. If you work at a local bar, Dardia said it’s “club courtesy” to let you in for free. But don’t try to pretend you work in a bar, Dardia said he knows everyone at all the bars.

The Better End, 446 Fore St.

On the corner of Fore Street, in the heart of the Old Port’s bar district, The Better End seems to attract steady crowds of young adults throughout the week. But, with the death of Zootz, the bar has stepped-up its entertainment to cater to even younger adults.

For the past three weekends, The Better End has offered 18-plus chem-free dancing from 1 to 3 a.m.

“We knew the teens would need somewhere to go,” said The Better End’s manager, Emily Kronholm.

On Thursday nights, resident DJ Jon will continue spinning hip-hop into the wee hours for the teens, and on Friday and Saturday nights, Laree Love will spin house music after-hours.

Kronholm said on Thursday that so far there have been no incidents with the younger crowd, and she had not received any complaints from police.

“Liquor enforcement came in and didn’t find any problems,” she said.

However, Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood said on Friday that he was unaware of 18-plus dancing sponsored by The Better End. He said that he checked with city hall, and no one knew of The Better End changing their license to offer dancing to minors.

“If something is going on illegally, the city would probably move to shut them down,” Chitwood said.

“From a public safety standpoint, I certainly have a concern of 18 to 21 year-olds in the Old Port,” he said. “Especially at those hours, from 1 to 3. We have enough problems dealing with people down there drinking.”

Chitwood continued that bringing the younger age group into the Old Port’s bar district would only compound problems for police. If The Better End wanted to apply for a license change, Chitwood said his department’s recommendation would be to deny any such license change.

While Kronholm was not available for additional comment on Saturday, but she had said before that attendance for the 18-plus nights was good.

If the Portland police don’t shut it down, The Better End offers dancing for $4 from 1 to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

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