The “Big Chilling” of America is turning into a financial killing-for one local dance club. The Motown sound and a dance floor is a mix that sells, at least on Lower Greenville, where the Fast & Cool Club has been packed since its February debut. And the beat goes on. This month, in Playboy’s “America’s Best Single Bars,” a chart of 40 bars across the country, the club scored an honorable mention. And due out next month, Cosmopolitan steps into the arena with “Ten Hottest Bars in America.” Cosmo scouted bars in 10 U.S. cities, and the Fast & Cool made the Dallas cut.

Despite the attention, F&C operators shy away from the term “singles’ bar.” “The dance floor is not the focus in those clubs, the social activity is,” says Matthew Mabel, one of three partners. “At our place, you walk in, and there’s the dance floor. It’s dancing primarily, socializing secondarily.”

But one look reveals what’s happening at the Fast & Cool, successor to Nick’s Uptown. One end of the Baby Boom is meeting the other on the dance floor and finding that they speak a common language-with Aretha, The Temptations and the rest of the Motown sound. And both audiences, it seems, can’t get enough. Owners report that on Thursdays through Saturdays, there’s a line around the building by 10 p.m. To entertain the throngs, (who imbibe beer and snacks from a nearby 7-Eleven), the owners have invested in break dancers, sax players and street singers.

“We play two levels of R&B,” says Mabel. “One is the Motown sound, which is extremely commercial, well-crafted pop music; the other is the more authentic soul sound that’s not quite as pretty, such as the Isley Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown-all artists who had more artistic freedom during the late Sixties than the Motown people did. The combination gives us the edge.”

That edge was what led John Kenyon, former Nick’s owner, to approach longtime competitor Shannon Wynne about the possibility of the two teaming up for a joint effort. Wynne, as has been endlessly documented, had been involved in various entertainment ventures, most notably Tango, a music and video club down the strip. With a handshake, the hiring of Mabel (recruited from Wynne’s Nemo Corp.) and the backing of several investors, the F&C was off the ground.

Motown and soul is 50 percent of the music mix. “The remainder,” says Mabel, “is contemporary dance and Top 40, but we whittle it down to aggressive dance music that has an edge to it such as contemporary Rolling Stones, the new David Bowie, Billy Idol, Tina Turner, Dire Straits and Talking Heads.”

And to the music, they add a dose of bump and grind. Witness the go-go dancers, Eighties style: painted ladies (and guys) who gyrate to the rhythmic beat in steel cages. Bare lightbulbs hang from the ceiling, and on the smoky dance floor, anything goes. To some, this decor is “warehouse basement chic” and “Gulag-a-go-go.” Kenyon calls it “high-tack.”

The R&B revival has been a long time coming, Kenyon says. “The generation of those 30 and older who are in charge of the creative forces (movies, TV, radio and fashion) started reviving the Motown sound, most notably through films like Animal House and The Blues Brothers. The college crowd has gradually been exposed to it and has found that it’s danceable, fun and great party music. The enormous popularity of The Big Chill just made it clear that there was an interest beyond ours in the marketplace.”

Another reason for success is that the club’s format incorporates live music without relying on it. Nationally, live music has been on the decline for several years, due primarily to declining record sales. That’s due in part, says Kenyon, to cable television, music videos and the lessening cost of VCRs.

“But there’s nothing like witnessing a performance when it actually happens. Our principle is to feature live music three or four times a month. And in January, we’re going to concentrate on more contemporary acts such as X and Mink DeVille.”

With the success of the Dallas club as encouragement, two partners-Kenyon and Mabel-have decided to branch out, taking the concept on the road-to Austin, where they’ve taken over the Sixth Street Live building. “Each city and each club is different,” says Kenyon. “Dallas is pop-mainstream; Austin is funkier. The club will reflect regional personalities.”

The Austin Fast & Cool will open December 4, too late for any “best” lists this year. Nevertheless, the two hope that Playboy and Cosmo will hear about it through the grapevine.


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