Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ethnic Social Hall Revival

Rust Belt suburban brats are moving back home to ironic locations. Instead resettling in neighborhoods like the ones where they grew up, they seek out the places their parents or grandparents worked so hard to leave. Rust Belt culture is not working class culture. The ghettos and Pittsburgh potties are relics that stoke the fires of nostalgia and pride. Being Polish and from Cleveland is authentic. It's cool. It's Rust Belt Chic:

And while many ethnic social halls sadly are dying off, some are being reborn. Rick Semersky, the new owner of Sterle’s, has reinvigorated the decades-old restaurant by adding craft beers and bringing in music that appeals to a younger clientele. As "Rust Belt Chic" gains popularity, so too it seems does the polka revival.

The unlikely comeback couldn’t occur at a better time, says Andrew Votaw of the radio show Polka Changed My Life Today, which airs weekly on WRUW 91.1. Many of Cleveland’s once-ubiquitous ethnic social halls now struggle with attendance. Votow hopes the revitalized polka scene will inspire more young people to take an interest.

“The challenge is to get the younger crowd to show up at an actual polka dance at an ethnic dance hall," says Votaw. "Usually, I’m the youngest person at the event. There’s a polka event going on most nights of the week here -- you just have to search for it.”

Votaw, who was recruited as co-host when he began calling in as "Andrew the Mailman" (he’s an actual mail carrier in Lakewood), says his own greatest regret is not celebrating polka music with his grandparents before they passed away. “They spoke Slovak,” he recalls. “They always had polka music blasting in their house.”

A Rust Belt Chic venue is where the eldest and youngest generation of adults come together and party. Hit up the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit. Mingle with the two martini lunch crowd and University of Minnesota art students at Al Nye's Polanaise. Boogie down at the Pittsburgh Banjo Club.

With all due respect to the above, Bat Shit Crazy Cleveland is king. If you like Richard Florida urbanism, he's building a Creative Class theme park in Miami so he can chest bump nightly with Akron's Lebron James. Many of us from the Rust Belt prefer the budding scene at ethnic social halls over Brooklyn boutique. This is where the next great innovations will occur and why President Obama is touting Youngstown, Ohio in his State of the Union address. Na zdravie!


The Urbanophile said...

Where I live (West Warwick, RI), there is an active Italian-American club and a Portuguese-American club within walking distance of my home.

Jim Russell said...

Rust Belt Chic Portuguese? Hmmmm ...