I moved from the blustery cold of Minneapolis, Minnesota to New Orleans in 1996. I didn't know anyone then, but I went to a concert at a bar venue called Jimmy's to see ...was is Sister Machine gun?..I have no idea any more. Anyway, that's not important. It was the girl sitting on the steps that was. Her name was Sharon. I didn't know it then, but she was about to change my life.
She introduced me to Harry K., Ryan Jones and Mark Taranto. They in turn asked me where I was headed after the show. I had no clue. I was informed that THE place to be after the show would be at a bar/club called The Crystal. I went down to a block of Decatur Street in the French Quarter that I wasn't really familiar with yet. That block was to become a second home to me over the next ten years.
The Crystal was a shithole. It still is, for the most part. If you're trying to impress someone from out of town, I don't recommend walking them in there as their first stop. But from the moment I stepped through those ratty-ass wooden doors at the front, I knew I'd come across something important, something special. And it's that something special that you get to experience if you stay there long enough despite the fact that its a shithole.
When I first started attending the Crystal, it was in it's gothy heyday, lots of candles, velvet, and a spookily lit dance floor. There were couches(which I'm sure by daylight would warrant lighting on fire), and dark cubbies where a guy and girl could smear their black lipstick all over each other.
There was a gorgeous tall bartender there, who's name is escaping me (she works over at OEJ's now -someone help me! We always remember each other but forget each others name! I used to have a huge crush on her!), and a big friendly door guy (who's name is also escaping me -grrr). The drinks were cheap, and like most NOLA establishments, served in plastic cup.
The sound system stunk, the dance floor was tiny, and the DJ's played a setlist that seemed to repeat itself each week. There were 'themed' nights that all basically boiled down to how many Siouxsie songs they'd play as opposed to how many Front 242 songs they'd play. Don't even get me started on the horrendous bathrooms.
But all that didn't matter. Because Ryan and Mark and Harry introduced me to so many people, I could spend the rest of this article listing them. And those people introduced me to even more. I could turn this whole post into a Romper Room sequence: "Oh look, I see Joey, and Leia, and there's Mykelle! Hi Mykelle.....". The Crystal was one degree from Everyone. It was too small for bands, but acts like Thrill Kill Kult often came over for after show parties.
Eventually, it died. When and why isn't important (I'll get to that in a minute). But it went away. Born as the Blue Crystal, then dying as the Crystal.
Shortly after that, it was reborn as the Crowbar. No one liked it. It didn't last long. It was gone. I'm not sure when it opened or why it closed. It isn't important.
Later, in the early 00's, a friend of mine that I worked with at the Shim Sham decided to put his own spin on 1135 Decatur. The Whirling Dervish was born.
Unlike earlier incarnations, Matt and his cohorts put a fresh spin on the place. Taking the focus away from 'goth' and putting the emphasis on 'eclectic' or perhaps more accurately, 'freaks'. I say freaks with a fond inclusiveness. He opened the upstairs and turned it into a hookah lounge. He hosted Dada art nights and pursued DJ's and theme nights that brought in a whole range of people. He renovated the bar, brought up the lights, cleaned, painted and gave the whole thing new life.
Over time there were ups and downs, the upstairs closed, things lost their luster.
I began DJ'ing there for the third time in early/mid 2004 for a night called "No Name, No Slogan" (Thanks for that Mark) which, for me, would mark the high point of my time at the Dervish. It was the first night there where new indie music was really embraced. Within a year, bands like the Postal Service, The Faint, Felix Da Housecat, and Fischerspooner were getting played right along with the Smiths and the Cure and packing the dance floor.
Despite all of these changes, it was still the people that made 1135 so special. Many of the old faces were still around, but there were always new ones. People like Cynthia and Shelly, Seale and Jene put a new mark on that address for me.
I'm sure the Dervish has caused me significant liver damage, but it was all worth it. Which brings me around to why it isn't important when the Crystal closed or why the Dervish is closing. The place has been around long enough in enough incarnations, that it's become an idea, a concept. You can't destroy concepts, just morph them. The Dervish may be gone, but 1135 Decatur will rise again from the ashes, I have no doubt. Hopefully, Matt Vaughn is involved with it (The little schemer is always planning something!).
If he isn't, it will probably still be a place where I can roll in on a Saturday night and see a familiar face behind the bar, Shelly and Cynthia on the dance floor, Chris James sitting at the end of the bar, goth girls dancing horribly to Wumpscut, Ryan Jones making out with...umm someone who's name I've redacted, Seale showing off a new skirt, Candace talking about a new band she found, Eugene up in the booth spinning a tune I love, Joey showing someone his disco ball, Jack, Travis and Harry talking about their bands, Matt presiding over a happily drunken crowd, or where Mykelle and Leia and I can sit at the bar and reminisce about the old days back when it was still called, "The Whirling Dervish".
The Whirling Dervish is dead. Long live 1135 Decatur.
portraits hung in empty halls
5 days ago