Here’s an idea for a stupid dating show: Drop a hapless, bright-eyed couple into the center of suburban strip malldom and follow them around as they spend the day navigating the weird assortment of Americana commerce that collects there. If our couple were parachuted into the Ridge Shopping Center, a two-year-old oasis in the oak wilderness outside of 1604, they could tackle Brazilian ju-jitsu, have their teeth whitened, pop into a wellness place (“empowering you for life”), share hookahs, and, if the date makes it that far, enjoy a night of drinks, dancing, and temptation at Area 31, one of the two upscale “ultra lounges” bookending the shopping center.
Big points to the couple if they can find their way in. From the parking lot, the club thumps and throbs at you through its windows without giving up an entrance. (Spoiler alert for would-be contestants: Look around back.) Then there’s scrutiny from the door people, checking to see that clothes are (1) on and (2) appropriate. For “appropriate” consult the club’s website, which advises against “wearing a tank top no matter how buff you are” and encourages women to wear “whatever you look hottest in!!!!” Unstated though almost religiously followed by patrons: wear some/all black.
Area 31 is a two-parter. There’s the dark inside, with curtained booths and an underlit bar-top, lending all the cocktails a Blade Runner glow, an overused but admittedly still pretty cool effect. Outside is the 3,000-square-foot “rooftop bar,” more curtained grottoes, a dance floor, and fat low couches. As inviting as all the sitting areas are, they’re reserved for table service, which starts at $150 and is announced by one of the comely table girls carrying your bottle to you with a sparkler attached, held overhead like it’s opening day at the Sexy Olympics. The music, inside and out, is the high-output dance kind, its bass thrusting so deep you risk ear infection. From the deck and the wall of windows inside, the lights pulse along Loop 1604, the reason all this is here.
Imagine our couple tempted repeatedly by the many exotic and attractive people in attendance, a land of uniformly large breasts and creatively manicured beards. Bartenders and waitstaff are also, of course, good-looking, and very friendly. In fact, Area 31 seems like a regulars kind of place, communal and even periodically intimate — which ends when the line grows and the place fills with short skirts and long waits.
Mostly, it has the scent of a desert republic, a casbah that rocks. That it’s out here on the edge of wilderness (I once, not far away, found a turtle in the woods as big and battered as a keg of light beer!) only adds to the made-for-TV mood.
In case you were wondering, the date went well. We end the show the next morning with a slow-mo shot of our couple walking hand-in-hand into the Apostolic church, like everything else, seemingly, just a few doors down. •
4553 W. Loop 1604 Ste. 1229
Vibe Imagine a Cee-Lo song with more humidity.
Best Use Dressing up, dancing hard, not sitting down (unless you want the sparkler thing). Best advice is to arrive before things start picking up at 11 p.m. Thu-Sat; otherwise you'll have to park in the dirt and bribe the doorman.
Prices $2 domestic, $4 import, $5 wells