Thursdays are Rock Night at the Garage, the Ohio City club where Cleveland's rock notables -- and those who dress like them -- gather to check each other out without looking like they're checking each other out. The place is crammed with dudes clad in camouflage trucker hats and ladies shoehorned into sweaters so tight they're constantly short of breath.
Rock Night is fast becoming an institution here and across town: The Hi-Fi Club in Lakewood offers its own Thursday-night version, and Peabody's is scheduled to join the action shortly.
The allure is immediately obvious: Step into the Hi-Fi by 10 or so, and already there's a slew of well-known local rockers milling about the place. Keith Gayton from the A-10s mans the bar. Members of Dead by July and Dozen Dead Roses sip Red Bull and look a little underfed. In the DJ booth, a pair of staffers from Alternative Press magazine spin Refused and Clutch. Each week a new set of celebrity DJs mans the turntables, from members of Keelhaul and Amps II Eleven to artist Derek Hess and Fractured Transmitter Recordings head Jason Popson.
The music is mostly badass-but-boilerplate punk, rock, and metal of the variety most in attendance probably already own. The real attraction here is the chance to hang with your favorite Cleveland rockers in a more laid-back setting than a full-on rock show offers.
The Hi-Fi, in particular, is well suited for it. The place feels kind of like your dad's den or a Toys R Us for alkies, with old-school board games like Aggravation and Simon lining the walls over a vintage Pac-Man arcade game. Above the bar, a ceramic Elvis keeps watch -- perhaps lured by the $1.25 chili dogs -- next to a mini-Gene Simmons action figure. There's an inflatable pool filled with Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch, the site of the wrestling action that takes place later on (don't ask -- just get there by midnight).
At the bar, a former member of the Signoffs strums a sunburned acoustic guitar. Two girls in green and brown halter tops shoot him glances from a distance, like hunters in miniskirts. This is the place to be if you have any instrumental aptitude -- or even if you can fake it well.
Across town, the Garage is a good deal more crowded. Trevor Moment from American Werewolves works the door, as members of At Wits End and Solo Flyer busily raise their blood-alcohol levels. With its mechanics' motif, the place lives up to its name. There's a motorbike mounted above the door and vintage Texaco and Mobil gas pumps behind the bar. A flat-screen TV shows Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, while DJ Larry Szyms spins Bikini Kill and the Cramps from a booth high above the crowd. Red-brick walls and exposed silver piping give the place the feel of a heavy-metal firehouse.
Tonight, the fire is confined to the bellies of the hundred or so revelers who fill just about every seat in the club. While the Hi-Fi is loaded with thrift-store punks and rockers with faux-hawks and tattered suede overcoats, the crowd here is more about urban chic. The fellas are clad in gleaming black leather and enough cologne to make a muskrat's eyes water. Ladies come with hair dyed blacker than the night outside and big silver earrings that could double as hula hoops. They pose for pictures with one another and drink to their own beauty. (Oddly, we're left out of that toast.)
Everyone seems to feel a little bit privileged to be hanging out among Cleveland rock's in-crowd; it's like a backstage party that's open to all. And then, after settling up your tab at the end of the night, you too will finally feel what it's like to be a local rock star: broke.