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Barfly - Giving thanks at MJQ

A family reunion of pilgrims, rump shakers and ripe tomatoes

Wednesday December 1, 2010 04:00 am EST

As the line winds up the ramp and beyond the battered metal shack, a sexy just-ripe tomato in a slinky dress disappears into the night with a walk that looks destined for a more sophisticated setting.


“You see that girl that just walked by,” says the bouncer, “she was in the club for six minutes before she got thrown out for having sex in the bathroom.”

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and it’s time to take off the kid gloves before sitting at the kid table tomorrow at grandma’s house. As usual, Turkey Day will bring about the three Fs: forced family fun. But tonight, and every pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday for the past 12 years in Atlanta, it’s about three different letters: MJQ.

Into the belly of the once-seedy, somewhat shinier Ponce de Leon Avenue, it’s an annual pilgrimage to the dirty underground parking garage. As the tradition goes, pilgrims and strangers alike gather to raise their spirits in plastic cups and shake their asses in a familiar surrounding. “This night is always bigger than New Year’s,” club manager Armando Celentano says, just before yelling at half the line, mostly filled with Emory kids in flip-flops, that it’s time to move on because the club has hit capacity.

Down the sticky ramp drenched in indulgence, it’s high fives and hellos. The loitering party people of all creeds look like a futuristic soup line of warriors from Urban Outfitters. At the bottom there’s little room to decide whether to turn right or left; the mass of people decide for you.

Entering the café, it’s Wednesday business as usual. The one-dimensional hip cats painted on the wall watch over a small, crowded space with a circle of breathing room in the middle where someone is break dancing. A girl asks what kind of music this is. “House,” says her friend, “or music people don’t want to listen to.”

The main room is a subterranean jungle. Faint smells of weed and sex perfume the air. The humble yet efficient resident DJ Brian Parris is weaving in and out of electro, OutKast, and Aha’s “Take on Me.” An assortment of butts are dancing above the DJ table on stage. With hands in the air and bodies swinging from rafters, the animals are running the zoo.

Squeezing through the slammed corridors, there’s barely enough room to reminisce. Since its modest beginnings in the basement of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, turntables have turned into laptops, clangy Britpop guitars replaced by indie-electro, and the restrooms that once resembled underground abortion clinics have been renovated into respectable places to powder one’s nose.

This place has sustained relevance long past the normal lifespan for a nightclub. Odds say the hole-in-the-ground should have been a mausoleum years ago. “It’s the evolution of club life,” says Mr. Murph, head of security. “We get older, but the club doesn’t.”

If the Apocalypse ever goes down, this could be the fallout shelter. “It’ll be cockroaches and MJQ,” says Celentano, “and we’ll still be busy.”

As the house lights come up in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, our sneaky little tomato is spotted leaving the girl’s room before disappearing into the squinty-eyed crowd. It’s safe to assume she’s especially thankful for dark corners and contraceptives.