11:15 p.m.?After finagling an early exit from my shift at Bullfrog’s Live and rushing home to change clothes, I am still able to get rock star parking in front of Jul’s Cocktail Club. I enter just as a gentleman is handing the bouncer, Charles “C-Dub” Klebe a “glass of soda with absolutely no alcohol in it.”?The cover this Friday night is $4 and the bouncer gives me a quick once-over before nodding me through the threshold of the nightclub. It is Klebe’s job to protect Jul’s notorious dress code policy. According to Klebe, bouncers watch for ball caps, jerseys and sweats, but are more lenient with ladies’ attire.?”We try to stay away from the image of a Topeka sports bar,” said Klebe.
11:22 p.m.?Jul’s is not in danger of being likened to a sports bar. Instead of being greeted by glaring televisions and the smell of beer, I first notice the beautiful circular bar glowing green. It takes about a minute and a half to be served by a friendly gal who pours graciously. ?Small hanging lamps help my eyes adjust to the darkness. Behind the bar, top shelf liquors are lined up and adorned with several peacock feathers. On either side, colossal black pillars stand from the floor to the movie theatre ceilings.?While I sit there, the counter changes from green to pink. Upon closer inspection, there seem to be glowing strips of light inside the bar. The actual technical truth is elusive to me, but hey, it’s pretty cool. This fascinates me for approximately 23 minutes.
11:45 p.m.?On the other side of the bar’s circle, the DJ tests out a hip-hop remake of “Sweet Home Alabama,” which drives away all but a playful couple and a young, curly-haired woman who uses her cowboy hat as a prop while dancing. Shortly after, he brings the crowd back with Kelis’ “Milkshake.” ?DJ Twist Tie appears to enjoy his job. He dons headphones and bobs his head as he changes tracks seamlessly. The dance floor is constructed of polished wood that flickers under disco lights. On three sides of the club, screensaver-like graphics are projected onto square screens. Those brave enough to dance aren’t awful, but also aren’t very intimidating. In the equation of dance, alcohol is like a fraction – it confuses everything and brings out the idiocy in most people. While many of the people on the dance floor seem to be doing okay by themselves, their attempts to marry rhythm with a partner is painful to watch.At this time, I make the mistake of asking an opinion about the club from a strange, increasingly creepy man whom I will not name. He mumbles some things about a blonde girl, police officers and a Thanksgiving turkey before I can extract myself from the conversation.
12:10 a.m.This time it takes 30 seconds to get a drink and the bar has turned red. The gentleman bartender winks swankily as he dumps and cleans out the ashtrays. I work my away around the dance floor, visiting tables set back against the walls, where I meet Tony Turner, who believes that one must be in a certain mood to come to Jul’s.”You have to feel like dressing up a little bit,” said Turner. “Everybody here is trying to impress somebody else.”He then demands that I take a nameless shot that smells like a starburst but is much too red. My reluctance is interpreted as suspicion, which he combats by drinking half of it to prove it isn’t spiked before handing it back to me. I wonder how many people have transmitted the Avian Flu with maneuvers like this.
12:26 a.m.Bartender Augie Meier says he serves countless Jagerbombs on Friday and Saturday nights. Meier is full of pride for his workplace and full of big, quotable words like “presentation,” “atmosphere,” and “quality.””My cousin owns [Bullfrog’s Live] next door,” said Meier, with a shrug. “I choose to work here.”Meier is nice enough to escort me to Jul’s owner Ken Schmanke, who is helping a server with a computer problem. “We’re the anti-sports bar,” said Schmanke. “We offer something more cultured than people expect to find in Topeka. Like pretty women. Pretty reporter women.”Schmanke smells a little like whisky.
12:50 a.m.After a couple of attempts, I am able to catch one of the quick-paced, dangly earringed cocktail waitresses as she passes the bar. Aubrey Ketter has been a server for six years, and an employee of Jul’s for eight months. In addition to the darkness and the tips, Ketter values the management’s trust in their servers.”I’m allowed to use my own judgment, from spilled drinks to cutting people off,” said Ketter. “I visit clubs enough outside of work that I know how I would want to be treated by my server.”In the middle of my note taking, Ketter begins to dance. So I dance with her.
1:19 a.m.The impending last call has Jul’s patrons restless and ordering rounds of shots. Not long afterward, I glance toward the DJ to realize that a young woman is dancing on the bar in front of him. I stare for several minutes, surprised and waiting for a bouncer to pull her down.”That’s nothing,” said nearby onlooker Gary Woodylard. “Eight girls were on the bar at once earlier tonight. They encourage it here.”Melanie Kesel, a Jul’s regular, agrees. “I’ve danced up there before. The shots just keep coming and coming,” said Kesel. “I’m not really sure where they come from.”
1:40 a.m.I learn that Jul’s doesn’t simply empty their tipsy clientele into the parking lot at 2:00 a.m. like every other bar in town. Jul’s Grille next door serves breakfast until three in the morning. A service like this is almost angelic. I do not envy the staff that accompanies this event, which must ensue like the third shift at Denny’s or IHOP.Tonight, I am reluctant to participate (though breakfast food is dear to my heart). After noticing that the Creepy Thanksgiving Turkey Man has been watching me for some time, I head quickly to the door, where bouncer C-Dubb waves me goodbye. I speed off like maybe a cowboy on his horse would ride into the sunset, but instead I’m in a Corolla, driving down Huntoon under a very dark sky.