Party Like It's 1985

The old wave lives on Monday Nights

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click to enlarge BLUE MONDAY: The old wave VIP party storms The Castle. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
BLUE MONDAY: The old wave VIP party storms The Castle.

The thing about nightlife is, nothing gold can stay.

The only constant is change. It's a fickle, trendy, gotta-do-what-pays-the-bills business, even in the largest and most culturally conscious metropolises.

Tampa is neither the largest nor most culturally conscious metropolis I can think of at the moment. That's OK; Tampa is what it is. And what it is, is a medium-sized city both blessed and cursed by its circumstances: too far away from any major cultural centers to ride the back end of the cutting edge; both remote enough to foster its own creative impulses and large enough to wonder whether or not the products of those impulses are worthy of comparison to the fruits of world-class cities that Tampa has, in truth, no business comparing itself to.

But it does, anyway.

Tampa has serious self-esteem issues when it comes to nightlife. It wants to hang with New York; it wants to be recognized as a close friend of former techno-scene player Orlando; it wants to have its own little Bourbon Street, only with a movie theater and ice cream parlor, just in case a family from out of town happens to wander down to Drink Special Central during daylight hours.

Tampa's nightlife wants to be recognized. But Tampa's nightlife either never went to high school, or decided to blindly disregard what was so obvious to the rest of us while we were stuck there: that trying too hard to be cool is about the most un-cool thing a person, club or scene could do.

And so the specialty nights come and go. The upscale clubs on Ybor's Seventh Avenue open and close. The DJs move from venue to venue, catering to subsequent new crowds who tumble to certain styles later and later. The original bands either play to an appreciative boutique crowd or chase the mainstream trends, filling venues while reaching for a brass ring they're at least a year behind.

Meanwhile, DJ/promoter Rob Pittman's Old Wave-centric spectacle called Monday Nights celebrated its 15th anniversary at atmospheric Ybor City nightclub The Castle this week, and shows no signs of letting up.


Because it's not about cool. It's about tradition, and it's about outsiderdom, and it's about fun.

When I first arrived in Tampa in 1990, I couldn't get into my new apartment right away because my roommate was at Old Wave Monday Night at a now-defunct North Tampa club called DNA. Fifteen years later, I couldn't get into The Castle's stately but ramshackle edifice right away because the line of partygoers wielding passes to the 9 p.m. open-bar VIP shindig stretched from the club's wooden arch-top doors down the block and around the corner.

Diners and late shoppers leaving Centro Ybor via Eighth Avenue were treated to the sight of guys in baseball caps, underage girls in horn-rimmed glasses and bustiers, young men in leather pants and biplane goggles, and aging rockabilly dudes, all queued up to pay tribute to what has become a Tampa nightlife institution.

Pittman and partner-in-crime Lee Pines have had to relocate Monday Nights several times over the course of its existence. After DNA closed down, Pittman helped open the cavernous Parthenon in a dead zone just east of downtown Tampa (it's now Club Underground). After that space changed hands, Monday Nights ran briefly at former Seventh Avenue club The Edge before settling into a still-profitable run at The Castle.

"[The Edge residency] was so short-lived that we didn't even mention it on the flyers [for the 15th anniversary party]," says Pines, who first started helping promote Pittman's night back in the DNA days, when he was just 15. "The Castle just seemed more appropriate, more fitting."

Tampa clubsters of all stripes agreed, and now The Castle has been synonymous with Monday-night revelry for as long as most dedicated weeknight partiers can remember.

Over the years, Monday Nights' crowd has expanded from its original North Tampa clientele - mostly black-clad misfits with a yen for British mopesters like The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees, and USF students interested in neither a good night's sleep nor the proto-jam bands playing Temple Terrace dives at the time - to include basically anybody who knows a Smiths song, and anybody who wants to lay somebody who might know a Smiths song.

This week's anniversary soiree packed The Castle's two-tiered interior with all manner of humanity, from 700 young women in black push-up bras and matching eyeliner, to the guy in the blue button-down shirt who was a perfect cross between Edward Norton and Val Kilmer's "Iceman" character from Top Gun, to the guy in the bondage harness who can't wear regular shirts because the apparatus attached to his pierced nipples won't allow it.

In general, the music selection has changed a bit with time, as well.

"It used to be a truly '80s Old Wave night, and now it's probably 70 percent Old Wave - we're doing more contemporary stuff," says Pines. "Over the years our clientele has gotten younger and younger. It's so hard to do that, keep current and mix in '80s stuff. We manage to pull it off, but [the contemporary music is] nothing commercial or mainstream."

The anniversary party held to tradition, however. Monday Nights at The Castle are one of a very few Tampa club nights where there's a video for every song, and Pittman and Pines held to a sort of "greatest hits" playlist that cracked the classic Old Wave canon with only a few more updated (but no less familiar) favorites. Long after the 11 p.m. cutoff for the VIP party had passed, I still hadn't heard anything more recent than Jane's Addiction's "Stop," from 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual.

There's arguably nothing cool about "Stop" these days. Or Ministry, or Sisters of Mercy, or The Church. What's more, there's not much cool about the hundreds and hundreds of 18-year-olds and 26-year-olds and 40-year-olds who crowded The Castle on Monday. I mean, there were certainly some cool haircuts (real Mohawks, not a faux-hawk in sight) and beyond-daring outfits on display, and it was certainly the place to be.

But Pittman built Monday Nights on outsiderdom - not the cool outsiderdom, but the one before that, when being different wasn't a marketing angle and almost nobody knew what you were talking about, and all you had was your shared status as freaks or people who didn't mind being around freaks.

And no matter how powerfully the '80s come roaring back, Monday Nights probably won't ever seem like a trend.

I mean, seriously, come on. It's been 15 years.

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