As Maine’s coronavirus count drops, popular Portland dance club makes a comeback

PORTLAND, Maine – Another piece of the city’s post-pandemic puzzle is falling into place.

On Friday night, DJ Jay Tubbs will fire up his digital decks and, at 8:30 p.m. sharp, begin spinning tunes from the decadent decade of big hair and shoulder pads. Then the three lighted dance floors in front of him will vibrate and flash with swirling bodies, desperate to strut and sway after 15 months of stillness.

With the virus on the run in Maine, the night of the 80s returns to Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland.

Bubba’s is the only hall in the city dedicated to dance. Employees and customers are eager to get back on track. They agree that dozens of bodies, all dancing to the same tune, will be a common experience marking the return of a certain sense of normalcy after a year of isolation induced by the pandemic.

Employees and customers alike see it as a sign of hope for an unsecured future and a great example of something you didn’t know you were missing until it was taken away from you.

Old lunch boxes hang from the rafters at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. The club is known for its eclectic decor and three lighted dance floors. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“It’s time for people to start dancing again. It’s now. Don’t wait, ”said Christine Arsenault. “Who knows what will happen in six months. “

Arsenault has been running the Bubba’s bar for 14 years. She spent part of her unscheduled year working on a tree-pruning crew and said she was happy to return to her real job.

“Yes, 100%,” said Arsenault. “My last shift was on Friday March 13th.

She said the phone rings constantly with people asking when Bubba’s will reopen.

“We’ve been checking the Facebook page for months,” said Mike Simone.

Simone and his wife Aileen Greenberg have been regulars since 2014, despite living in Belfast. The couple often head south and make it a weekend getaway, dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. They even organized part of their wedding at Bubba’s.

They are definitely coming this weekend.

They love the diverse crowd, especially on the long ’80s Friday nights, where the dancers bond with Whitney Houston’s early hits as well as nearly forgotten New Wave gems. It’s not uncommon, they said, to see both bikers and moms with fangs dancing to the same tunes.

On Saturday nights the music is more contemporary but the same friendly crowds are present.

“We’re almost 50 years old and we’re not even close to the oldest people out there,” Greenberg said. “It gives us hope for the future.”

Jay Tubbs, known to the dancers at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland as DJ Tubbs, can’t wait to get back to singing at the club’s dance parties. Bubba’s reopens this weekend after being closed for over a year. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

For the slightly older ensemble, on ’80s nights, the music is pure nostalgia, taking them back to their high school years. At the same time, dancing right next to them, the 20+ year olds have fun with what they call oldies.

“It’s 21 to 95 – literally. It’s so wide, ”Tubbs said.

Tubbs is strict on his’ 80s music, refusing to play tunes even from 1979 or 1990. His unique mix of mega hits and deep cuts of memory helps pack them up and says this is the only gig he has ever had. never got where the people are on the floor, before the music started, waiting to dance.

“Normally things don’t start until late,” he said. “Not here. They come in hot to dance.

Tubbs said Bubba’s revelers came from all over. He met them in California, Texas, Montreal and even Australia.

“And every Saturday night 25 bachelor parties pass by here,” Tubbs said. “It’s crazy.”

Arsenault said they often run the air conditioning in the winter because there was so much sweat and steam inside.

Besides dancing, Bubba’s is known for its funky interior. Outside, there is nothing special, just a low-rise gray building. Inside, it’s almost indescribable.

The lighted dance floors from John Travolta’s era – salvaged in the 1970s – are crowd favorites. Additionally, almost every square inch of Bubba’s nearly windowless interior is filled with kitschy Americana and crazy flea market finds.

Collections of old lunch boxes, wall clocks and life-size stuffed animals abound. Along one wall is a row of old cash registers. In the dim light, it’s easy to mistake one of the many models for a motionless boss. At the back, there is a small museum dedicated to harness racing in Maine.

An alcove is filled with American tchotchkes and antiques at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. After being closed, due to the pandemic for more than a year, Bubba’s is reopening this weekend. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Several alcoves have been added to the building over the years just to house the weird stuff – and Bubba has collected a lot of them over the bar’s 61-year history.

Why, is a mystery. Owner Bubba Larkin does not grant interviews or allow himself to be photographed. As mysterious as it is, Larkin is a real person and can occasionally be spotted in town with his dog, Marley.

Beyond the kitsch and nighttime novelties of the ’80s, dancers like Simone and Greenberg are returning to connect with something even deeper – something they’ve missed over the long and isolated year. pandemic.

They are looking for connection through the deep human urge to get lost in an instant.

“There’s something about being in a crowd of people, feeling the music and bringing it out of your body,” Simone said.

Greenberg agrees.

“It’s that feeling of community ecstasy,” she says. “We’ve been so much in our heads over the past year. It’s time to reenter our bodies – and Bubba is the best place on Earth. It is magic.

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