By Amy Silverman
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By Chris Parker
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By Weston Phippen
Looks like someone's about to kick out the jams.
9:50 p.m. -- Tango at the Paper Heart
At suburban hangouts, the scene is often dependably consistent. A TGI Fridays, by design, always feels like a Friday. At Fat Tuesday's, it's always Mardi Gras. Downtown, however, the same venue can change into something different each night.
The Paper Heart Gallery, with its concrete floors, basement furniture and eclectic art displays, seems an unlikely place for the tango. But on certain nights, at least, it transforms into an Argentinean ballroom.
"We're really here to do a dance," says Ravi Khalsa during one of his and wife Satya's monthly instructional excursions at the art space off 5th Avenue and Van Buren.
The Khalsas, middle-aged ballroom dancers who only picked up the exotic Argentinean art form four years ago, began teaching lessons at Paper Heart six months ago. That was their way, Ravi says, of bringing the dance to younger, bohemian-styled people.
Unfortunately for the Khalsas, Tango Night so far has been a hit or miss affair. Some months, they've attracted several dozen attendees. Tonight's event attracts only six. Yet most of them are advanced enough in their knowledge of tango that this November evening proves to be intimate and relaxed.
The pupils, led by Ravi, in thick beard and Sikh head covering, and Satya in subtle white blouse, brainy spectacles and stylish white and black dance shoes, focus on arm movements, tricky spins and cultivating an appearance of elegance. They spend very little time on leading or stepping to the beat, which in tango is tougher than it looks. The few dancers, as a result, laugh and chat through the night and use the time to enjoy the art and each other to the sounds of a Juan Darienzo recording. Tomorrow night may be a performance art night, featuring spoken-word monologues by folks in costume or aided by multimedia. Tonight, however, it's Ravi and Satya's exotic dinner party.
10 p.m. -- It's a Brickhouse
The Old Brickhouse Grill, tucked behind America West Arena on Jackson, is another box of chocolates where you never know what to expect on a given night. This box is big, though -- almost intimidating big. With the high ceiling, ample space that separates the bar from the stage and cave-like echoes and PA noise, the Brickhouse and its sprawling, for-the-general-populace atmosphere is certainly an oversized venue for many of the artsy, out-of-the-norm bands it books.
Tonight's lineup is a perfect example -- a showcase for a group of experimental Valley bands collectively known as the Shizz, shuffling sets by the latter-day grunge trio the Budget Sinatra, surf rockers Vin-Fiz, and video-game cover novelty The Minibosses.
Though the Brickhouse can hold a maximum of 665 people, tonight's experiment draws less than 100. Still, it seems a promising start to Cole Massey, inexhaustible co-owner of the place.
Massey's booking strategy is to build every night of the week on a different theme, so that people come out regardless of who's playing -- and tonight's small but enthusiastic turnout seems likely to spread the word. In the minutes before the Minibosses speed through the most gleefully unrehearsed version of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town" you'll ever hear, Massey and Budget Sinatra bassist Donald Martinez toast to shots of kamikazes and spend the rest of the night feeling they've pulled a coup for the benefit of the downtown music scene.
10:30 p.m. -- Bikini Dash
The Bikini Lounge is the nearest thing to an East Village bar Phoenix has to offer. Sure, there's the cheesy Tiki decor, the fake fire torches made of paper, the Edward Leeteg-style black velvet wahine on the wall behind the bar -- none of which seems to have been dusted in about 50 years. But the theme's incidental, because here you'll get a slice of humanity as inclusive as the A-Train, and nearly as crowded.
On First Friday they pack 'em in three and four deep -- black, white, young and old, the near famous and near infamous. Students and artists. Poets and firemen. The beautiful and the butt-ugly, all vying for the attention of Mary behind the bar, who acts like everyone's Aunt Bea. "You should come back when it's not so crowded, hon," she tells a newbie.
The crowd changes every time you look up from your drink. One moment, you're sitting beside a brunette stunner in a backless floral number exposing as much flesh as the law will allow. A few sips later, she's a thin, pale lass in long blonde pigtails who looks like Andrew Wyeth's Helga and is sipping a whiskey on the rocks and discussing Austrian folk tales. Blink, and it's a hairy Goth guitarist in a spiked black-do and leather jacket, staring at the TV showing Jerry Springer coaching some trailer park reject and rattling on about his band's last tour.
The Bikini is a spot on the downtowner's "to do" list, but the tables turn over fairly quickly, ushering in the next group of scene hunters who grab a Sex-on-the-Beach in a test tube from the spandex-clad blonde in the corner, squeeze into an observation point for a while, then leave. Eavesdroppers' opinions are offered like breath mints on the way out.