When I first arrived at The Castle in Ybor, I knew this was going to be weird. An entire line of costumed patrons, speckled with blinking LEDs, stood outside the dated nightclub. Two sets of red, cathedral style doors sat ajar as employees of the venue checked tickets and let people inside.
Once in the doors, the first thing I saw was a large dancing area and bar on the first floor, with both customers and bar staff decked out in various types of eccentric garb. On the opposite wall from the bar, two girls dressed in all black DJed inside the mouth of a giant green gargoyle head with demonic red eyes and faux fire for a tongue. On one side of the stage sat three sets of bunk beds, each occupied by sitting customers listening to music and giving each other light shows. On the other side of the stage were private sitting areas designed to look like cages of some sort.
After absorbing the scene inside, I moved to the patio section out back. Another DJ booth was set up and blaring music into the dark Ybor alleys. Large illuminated signs saying “Hallucinations Before Christmas” hung in the trees and off the side of the building. One tree was completely covered in LED candy canes and there were little Jack Skellington faces all around.
As the night progressed, the sights got weirder and weirder. I walked past the front door as a man wearing a nothing but a Santa Claus beard and a tinfoil box with christmas lights and suspenders entered the building. Behind him was a group of four scene girls dressed in matching black and red corsets and sporting black lace umbrellas illuminated with red string lights.
Deciding to travel further into the void, I journeyed upstairs to what ended up being the club’s biggest dance floor. A menacing Jack Skellington rig loomed over the DJ booth, complete with an animated face and long limbering arms. Scenes from A Nightmare Before Christmas played on projectors along to thumping EDM. People on stilts dressed like characters from the movie trudged amongst the dancing crowd. Women dressed as dolls and elves danced on platforms scattered amongst the floor while men dressed like demons roamed the ground. Above the crowd was an incredible laser light show shooting through fog and smoke from below. Flow artist spun poi in front of the stage and women performed acrobatics on aerial fabrics.
It’s easy to get lost in a scene like this. With so much going on, so much to absorb, the mind generally takes to roaming around trying to make sense of it all. I roamed from room to room, trying to understand the event that I was at. Through the saturated light, hordes of people walked up and down the old staircase trying to find the booth with just the right vibe for them. Bewildered, I roamed the venue until about 3 a.m. leaving as equally entertained as I was confused.