THE TRAP ROOM

by Max Sparber in


Let me tell you a few secrets, although I am always loathe to do so. Sometimes secrets exist for a reason -- because to tell is to ruin them. But cultural journalism is the business of secret ruination, I suppose.

I can at least console myself in the fact that, at the moment, I have about three readers, and, further, I have never succeeded in making anything popular in my life. I have committed everything I have ever loved to paper, dreading that the object of my affections would soon be swarmed with lessor suitors, and instead had them met with total indifference.

But I still fear spilling my secrets, so come close, and I will simply whisper what I am about to say, and then we must both look away, knowing that we must never acknowledge that I have said it.

In fact, I have multiple secrets, and the first is a bar called the Trap Room, just north of downtown in the same complex that houses Film Streams and the Slowdown. This is, of course, a secret that is no secret at all. The Trap Room has received plenty of press, in no smart part because of its association with Saddle Creek Records.

The Trap Room is owned by Jason Kulbel and Robb Nansel from the label, who also own Slowdown, and it initially seems puzzling for bar owners to open a bar directly opposite the bar that they own.

I asked about this when the Trap Room first opened, and was told that the owners noticed that after bands performed at Slowdown, they and their audience inevitably left to another bar, and Kulbel and Nansel decided that they might as well also offer the other bar. I recently asked one of the bartenders how this has worked out, and was told it has and it hasn’t, depending on the band and the audience and the mood of the evening.

This makes sense. The Trap Room is a very particular sort of drinking establishment. It is bijou, about the size of a basement bar in an uncle’s house, which it resembles. It is the most Omaha-looking bar I have ever been to, in a certain way. This town is crowded with thrift stores and inexpensive antique stores, and so there are more than a few Omahans who live in apartments that look like they were interior designed in 1963 by a designer obsessed with kitsch, Americana, and mustard colors.

This is what the Trap Room feels like, and I am given to understanding that much of its interior design was rescued from eBay. Despite the presence of two televisions playing sports, the bar encourages conversation -- strangers who belly up next to each other often wind up talking, at least for a few minutes, and friends will group up to sit at a table or outside to converse. This is ideal for one sort of band afterparty, where everybody furrows their brows and sips their drinks and confabulates. It is imperfect when you want to take poppers and dance naked, as some bands do.

Nonetheless -- and this is my second, and bigger, secret -- the Trap Room is very much the place to go to meet musicians. This is unsurprising, given its association with a label and proximity to a performance venue. But I am frequently surprised that audience members who want to hobnob with artists don’t know enough to find out what bar they are going to.

I used to live near the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and my girlfriend and I made a regular habit of going to their bar just as their shows were letting out. We would introduce ourselves to actors, and, if it was somebody we especially wanted to meet, offer to buy them a drink. It’s a trick directly out of the groupie playbook, although I don’t think stage actors are typically the targets of this sort of behavior, and, as I understand it, with rock stars you do not buy them a cocktail, but cocaine. Nonetheless, if you are bored and looking to insinuate yourself into a lively group, now you know how.

I will warn you that there is a risk, when borrowing from the groupie playbook, of being mistaken for a groupie -- there was one Chicago-based actor who invited us back to his hotel room for drinks, and it seemed that he suspected us of being swingers. We were not, but you might be, and so swing away, dear friends -- the arts community will thank you for it.

But I should close by saying that one need not go to the Trap Room with a stratagem, although stratagems always make an experience more entertaining. Sometimes you just want a quiet place to drink a well-poured cocktail, and the Trap Room is that as well.

I am a drinker who prefers a well-made classic cocktail, and, even in this era of craft cocktails, it can be disappointingly had work to find a bartender who pours a good martini or manhattan. They do at the Trap Room -- I have been going for about a year, and have yet to have a bad drink, and had just about given up on finding a good martini. Martinins are especially tricky, as bartenders tend to panic about the vermouth and use too little, and use poor vermouth, and neglect to refrigerate their vermouth, and -- well, I won’t go on, but there are a lot of issues with vermouth.

This is not the case at the Trap Room. Come for the musicians, stay for the vermouth. Although, if my past experience as a critic is anything to go on, you won’t take any of my advice at all, and this is probably for the best, as I would feel just awful about ruining it.

Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a historian, playwright, and critic. Follow him on Twitter or email him with your arts events at maxsparber@gmail.com.

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