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Shaking the Dance Scene

Hot clubs compete for weekend crowds.

BY MELISSA BEARNS

It was New Year's Eve 2003 and Doug Renner had less than $500 left in his checking account. He'd put all his money and savings into opening The Jungle and he was nervous.

"If things hadn't gone the way they had …" said Renner, his voice trailing off before he finished the sentence. "Well, put it this way, it was everything I had. And it was the end of the month and I had a bunch of people to pay."

Legendary bluesman Bo Diddley tore it up at The Jungle last spring at his 75th birthday celebration.

But things went well. Very well. All night a line of people waiting patiently to get in snaked around the block. Drinking jungle juice and dancing under the camouflage nets and faux palm trees, more than 1,000 people brought in 2004 at Renner's new club.

He ended the night with enough money to make payroll and quite a bit more. "It felt pretty darn good," he said. "But I've been around the nightclub industry long enough to know one night doesn't make or break you. You have to keep reinventing yourself, keep changing."

Originally from Port Angeles, Wash., Renner, 31, has lived in Eugene seven years. He did most of his undergrad at Reed College in Portland but left just two classes short of the credits he needed to graduate. He finished at UO with a degree in psychology, then got his MBA, also from UO, in 2000.

After about a year and a half at Eugene-based accounting and business consulting firm Jones & Roth, he quit and started working at Joe's Bar & Grille as the general manager. When The Annex, an all-ages club in the same space The Jungle now occupies, started to lose money, Renner teamed up with an anonymous investor, bought it and transformed the club into The Jungle.

"Eugene has never had a club that was more than four walls and a dance floor," he said. "We're trying to provide an enjoyable experience going out, something you'd find in a big city; not getting you as plowed as possible on cheap drink specials."

For the first six months, The Jungle was the place to be on weekend nights. Every Friday and Saturday, Renner said about 700 people showed up to shake it on the dance floor. And last fall, Eugene Weekly voters definitively picked The Jungle as "Best Place To Shake Your Booty" in the Best of 2004, an award that had previously gone to Diablo's/Downtown Lounge three years running.

"We were surprised to hear that The Jungle won," said J.R. Willis, a bartender at Diablo's/Downtown Lounge. "But the number of people that come here to dance on a weekly basis tells me we're still Eugene's premier nightclub. As a bartender here I've had the pleasure of meeting a very large, diverse crowd who come exclusively to Diablo's to 'shake their booty.' I think the newness of The Jungle had a large part to do with their winning."

Maybe. But The Jungle has its own niche in Eugene and caters to a certain type of clientele — it's a favorite of the 20-somethings and the college crowd. "The Jungle definitely fills a need for a mainstream dance club allowing us to focus more on the abstract and lesser-known artists and music types," said Keith Martin, co-owner of John Henry's.

But as the newness wore off, the weekend draw dropped to a regular crowd of around 300 to 400. But Renner expected it. "People get sick of going to the same place," he said. "Chocolate chip cookie dough may be an excellent flavor of ice cream, but you don't want to eat it every night."

That's one of the reasons he never conceptualized The Jungle as solely a dance club. The size of the club allows bigger acts than the WOW Hall or John Henry's with equally low ticket prices because the club has a larger capacity. So The Jungle fills the gap between the McDonald Theatre, which can afford to bring in huge, national acts, and smaller clubs. And booking agent Jeff Gaulton brings in an impressive array of bands, from Bo Diddley to Toots and the Maytals to Reverend Horton Heat and the Supersuckers (March 27).

Douglas Fuchs does most of the promotion for the McDonald Theatre but also designed the website for The Jungle. "Jeff has a lot of connections with East Coast agents and he also books down in San Diego," Fuchs said. "He's an extremely talented buyer. He has a relationships with agents that other booking agents in this town don't have. Some of what he brings has been here before but a lot of it is unique."

Does Fuchs think The Jungle can succeed in a space where other clubs have already failed? "Yes. They have stable management and a really qualified talent buyer."

As for Renner, he said he'll stick around as long as he can stand the rock star lifestyle. As we parted ways, he was making breakfast plans for 8 am even though he was going to be up much of the night, watching people shake their booties.

 

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