There are few absolutes when it comes to nightclubs, even fewer when dealing specifically with those here, but the promise of a drag queen giving 110 percent will get people every time.
Such is what we get with the latest club offering on Church Street, where a gay and lesbian renaissance continues. But before we get to the new gay dance bar, Blu, consider the evolution of this two-block stretch in midtown: for five years now, Outloud Books has been a huge part of this budding scene, and the opening of the video bar Tribe last year has also been a tentpole in the identity of this place. For a long time, The World's End was one of the grand landmarks of the city's gay history, the bar/restaurant that would pave the way for other gay and lesbian tenants on Church. In recent years, that same space has been Jaded Mary's and Tabu, establishments that came and went with the vicissitudes of the fickle Nashville clubgoer. Now, after a great deal of time and money, the building is home to Blu.
It's been a while since Nashville got something new of this sort, and already rumors and gossip have been flying throughout the city like so many drink coupons, with the most insidious claiming that Blu didn't have its liquor license when it opened in early September and that the club had been raided due to sketchy alcohol permits. This hasn't been the case, though when the club threw open its doors to the public for the first time, it faced what for many establishments could have been a fatal misfortune: a blown breaker, which meant no air conditioning for the entire club. Jury-rigged fans and liberal drinking quickly and thankfully ensued in response, and several hundred people shared a communion of sweat and sass during the gloriously sprawling drag shows.
Even more interesting was the mix of people, including several of the town's other drag superstars who were there to support the girls working it on the inaugural eve. The question of the night was, "What made you come and check out opening night?" The recurrent answer was "to see something new and different."
The setup at Blu is much more organic than what most Nashville nightspots have to offer, with the main room flowing around (and kind of through) the dance floor area, though in an intimate fashion. Most impressive is the alcove off the front side of the club, with its plush seating and lounge area. In the sweltering heat of hundreds of bodies having a raucous time, luxury of any kind is greatly appreciated. Within easy view of the dance area and go-go cages are some of the most obscenely sumptuous chairs my ass has ever had the fortune to become acquainted with; I've had dates less comfortable than these chairs. The decor provided a marked contrast to the crowd, sharp edges and angles creating well-defined space, even as the crowd remained in flux. Thronging would be an even better choice of words, as opening night goers seemed like a physical wave swooping through the whole of the club, but sweeping onward and upward rather than pulling you under.
Julie, a veteran of Miami's club scene in the early aughts, maintains that "new gay clubs are the best places in the world for straight girls," with the unspoken "...until straight guys start showing up"though everyone was so sweaty after just a little while that such distinctions were blissfully jettisoned. Typical of the opening evening's "we're in this together" spirit, there was none of the sexual segregation that happens when the straight couples find their own space to dance in.
Blu's opening-night dance floor was the closest I've ever seen to the ideal for all dance floors expressed in Prince's "Uptown""black, white, Puerto Rican, everybody just a-freakin', good times were rolling." It was mixed up, and it was glorious. And if the relentless proliferation of scenes and subcultures in this city are indicative of anything, it won't last. It never does, though glorious moments are worth hanging on to. A later visit to the space finds a delicate balance of personal space and hands-in-the-air excitement, as Blu finds itself just a couple of weeks later no longer the newest place on the street. With the opening of the new dance club Play two blocks north, the city's mirrorballed geography shifts between unshakable absolutes, and those initial opening-night crowds have yielded to a more stable clientele. For the time being, at least, Nashville has several new and intriguing spaces with which to occupy its time.
Since the club's opening, there have been a few internal shakeups and some personnel shifts; as always when there are multiple spaces gearing themselves toward similar markets, there's a period of adjustment when one must define itself in opposition to the other. With the opening of Play, Blu has had to find a niche and start exploring it, quickly, refocusing itself in terms of music and objective. While the whole street now finds itself in uncertain waters (and in desperate need of a late-night eatery), the end result bodes well for the Nashvillian, gay or straight, who wishes to explore something new. Graciously, Church Street awaits for anyone who seeks the intriguing.