Dwindling Dance Floors in Frederick Leave Many Itching for More Places to Move and Groove
As a seasoned DJ, Dustin Prievo knows how to coax a crowd out onto the dance floor. “You always have to cater to the ladies–as with anything,” he says. “If the girls go out, the guys will eventually drink enough to go join them.”
But getting people onto the floor, especially these days, is just part of the challenge. That’s because lately in Frederick, the bigger problem is finding a dance floor—any dance floor—on which to groove. With closures of popular dance venues in the past year like Pastimes Café and the Greene Turtle, the floors seem to be vanishing.
One of the few exceptions can be found on Friday and Saturday nights. Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar on North Market Street downtown transforms into its after-hours alter ego: Club Reina. At 10:30 p.m. Isabella’s wraps up dinner service and clears out the tables and chairs to make way for a DJ, lights and a designated dance floor.
Isabella’s owner, Nezih Pistar, started Club Reina roughly three years ago as a way to maximize his restaurant space and bring in extra revenue. “I was also single at that time and I thought it would be fun to listen to music here at my restaurant instead of going to Bethesda or Washington, D.C.,” says Pistar, who also owned a larger nightclub in D.C. called Cities during the 1990s. He and his business partner, Phil Bowers, now own several restaurants in Downtown Frederick under their company, Fountain Rock Management, including Acacia on North Market Street and Ayse Meze Lounge in Everedy Square.
Pistar says it took a while to catch on, but Club Reina at Isabella’s has become such a hot spot for Frederick night owls that the establishment often has to turn people away due to space constraints. “It’s a different type of venue, but I actually really enjoy working there,” says Prievo, who works as the house DJ at Club Reina on Saturday nights. “A lot of people come back in regularly and that’s a good feeling.”
Thirty-four-year-old veterinary technician Debbie Lombardo heads to Club Reina most weekends to let off steam on the dance floor after a long work week. “It’s a nice atmosphere and it’s a good time,” says Lombardo, who moved to Frederick from a suburb of Cleveland more than two years ago. Though, she admits, Club Reina pretty much has the market cornered when it comes to dancing downtown. “I think it would be nice if there were other options of places to dance with good music,” Lombardo says.
“Really, the only place I’ll go in Frederick is Club Reina,” agrees 30-year-old Ricky Herman, who lives downtown. “Honestly, there’s really nothing else to do [late at night] besides go there. I don’t really mind, though, because it’s fun and I feel safe there.”
Steven Hill, professionally known as DJ Spyder, has worked at various venues in Frederick, including Club Reina, over the last several years. He’s also seen many of them disappear. For instance, the Greene Turtle on Citizens Way used to feature a DJ and a dance floor on occasion, but shut down in mid-June. Meanwhile, Pastimes Café, located inside the Hampton Inn off Buckeystown Pike for more than 20 years, closed its doors and its dance floor last fall. “They [Pastimes] had been around a long time and it was always a place for sort of the middle-aged crowd,” says Hill. “I would like to see a nice, legitimate club open up somewhere else in Frederick.”
At 10:30 p.m. Isabella’s wraps up dinner service and clears out the tables and chairs to make way for a DJ, lights and a designated dance floor. “It’s a different type of venue.”
Although Frederick may not be known for its abundance of dance clubs, it is known as a place to enjoy live music—in part due to the pioneering efforts of former business owner Fred Humbert during the 1970s. Humbert owned Carroll Creek Dam, which he describes as a “tiny rat hole of a place,” and helped carve out a zoning process to make the bar the first place to legally host live music in Frederick.
Now, 35 years later, Humbert is no longer a business owner but stays heavily involved in Frederick’s vibrant music scene as a member of a band, The Original Booze Brothers. The six-person group plays mostly Motown favorites, which are “old school dance music that crosses generations,” according to Humbert.
“A lot of the places that we play, people want to dance and there’s just not any room or they have to force their way out onto the dance floor,” says Humbert. “They start moving tables and chairs out of the way.”
Humbert says the architecture of many of the historic buildings in Downtown Frederick makes dancing a difficult prospect, but people do the best they can. Often, he says, dancing is just as important to the musicians as to the patrons. “I don’t think there’s going to be too many musicians out there that won’t tell you they don’t feel like they’re getting more out of their performance when people are up and dancing. Sometimes that’s the only feedback you get.”
Humbert agrees that Frederick should have more venues resembling night clubs with room for dancing and larger bands to perform and believes Frederick can support such an endeavor, if carried out properly. “If I were to get back into that business, a critical element of the plan would be to make room for dancing because that’s what people want,” he says.
Prievo has an interesting theory about why Frederick’s dancing scene is nearly desolate. He thinks it could be contributed to what he sees as a nationwide trend: People don’t dance that much anymore. “You get some jumping, some fist-pumping, shuffling of feet, clapping—I wouldn’t necessarily call that dancing,” says the 26-year-old, who admits to being voted “Best Dancer” at his high school in upstate New York. “I don’t even dance anymore,” Prievo says. “I don’t really know how to dance. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
While dancing as an art form may not be what it once was, Humbert believes people have a fundamental need to move to the right music that will never go out of style. “The desire to dance doesn’t go away as people get older,” he says. “They want to be up on their feet and moving. It’s a way to get rid of stress, to enjoy the music.”