A NIGHT OF NOSTALGIA
’80s Night at John Henry’s
BY DAN HOYT – PHOTOS BY MELISSA BEARNS
It’s 1:15 am on a Thursday night and downtown Eugene’s pretty much dead. It’s dark, cold and silent, save for a consistent thumping beat and a small patch of light coming out of one of the bars near the corner of Broadway and Olive. I get closer and realize the band is none other than Ric Ocasek and the Cars. The light is a bunch of brightly-colored beams flashing through the door mixed with the glow of cigarettes from the patrons outside. It’s ’80s Night at John Henry’s, and that’s precisely where I’m headed.
It’s a mystery to me why ’80s Night is such a hit in Eugene. Could it be an excuse to hop in Spandex, Jazzercise gear and David Bowie outfits and snag a few cheap beers while you’re at it? Well, as I enter the bar and scope out the dance floor, I find that nearly everyone’s dressed in plain ol’ modern club attire: button-down shirts and jeans for the men, halter tops and jeans or skirts for the ladies.
The dancing is different, though — not the freak dancing that’s popular at the hip hop joints like Taboo and Tsunami, but more open to big groups with everyone doing their own thing. It looks like one of those dances I’ve seen on old Saved By the Bell episodes, aside from the fact that everyone’s got some sort of alcohol in their hand.
“It’s more of a casual night,” says Keith Martin, manager and co-owner of John Henry’s. “I think so many people come because they familiarize themselves with the music quickly. From 10:30 all the way until close we’re pretty packed.”
Practically everyone who attends knows all of the words to the songs, so with each record change you see dozens of mouths moving to the music. Michael Jackson comes on and suddenly everyone’s singing “Beat It” as loudly as possible and jumping up on stage near the DJ.
This isn’t even the cheap beer night, yet the bar is full of people just chilling out and chatting away with the bartenders. Not being a fan of beer, I take a seat and shell out $8 total for a Jack and Coke and gin and tonic, double fisting it. “Our $1 well drink night was yesterday,” says Matthew “Ditto” Depew, who is a magician by day and a bartender when the sun goes down. “It’s $2 tonight, yet we still get great crowds, especially recently.”
After I down both drinks, I head up the walkway to the turntables, passing a bunch of kids leaning over the wall and nodding their heads to the music. Are they too drunk? Not into shaking it to Cyndi Lauper? Who knows.
DJ Jenn, who has done this as her only gig for eight years, takes tons of requests from anyone still sober enough to jot down a title on her clipboard. At the moment I arrive at the club, she puts on “It’s Raining Men,” requested by two giggling girls. A big cheer and scream from them and yet another sing-along from the crowd (now, not surprisingly, very female-dominated) ensues.
If drinking or dancing isn’t your thing, you may just want to see the one dude who does put on a costume every night. Tonight he’s Data from The Goonies, and he jumps and dances through the crowd, drawing laughter wherever he goes.
“That guy alone is worth going to see,” says Keith with a laugh. “He dresses up as just about anything from The Goonies characters to Indiana Jones and so on. If I can’t make it, I’ll still call and ask someone, just to find out what he was for the night.”
Whatever the reason, ’80s Night has garnered a huge following and remains packed until they turn on the lights and kick everyone out. As I head on out just before 2 am, the dance floor is still hoppin’ to the likes of Depeche Mode and Madonna. This party’s not about the drinks, what you wear or who you are — it’s about dancing like no one’s watching and reliving America’s most quirky period in music.
John Henry’s is located at 77 W. Broadway and hosts ’80s Night every Thursday.