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Photograph by Scott Hinrichs

These Shirts Melt The Cactus Club helped launch the concept of disco revival, long before it became standard dance club fare.

A Club Is Born, 1986-1989

By Rebecca Smith Hurd
who wrote the column Neighborhood Noise for Metro from 1986 to 1989

WHEN I HEARD the news that the Cactus is closing, I felt like an old friend I'd lost touch with had unexpectedly died. And there's nothing I can do except pay tribute with a few words. I remember the Cactus before it was the Cactus, when the 400 block of South First Street housed the Pussycat Theater, the Bachelor Club and a porn shop that sold sex toys and magazines of naked pregnant women. After they were pushed out by vice and downtown redevelopment types, the nightclubs came in. The first new bar owners were Mike Trippett and Sean Galvin. They'd been promoting their band, Grey Matter, and others on the side at the unfortunately named Muzzie's in Saratoga. They sought better digs, and the space on South First Street was a dream come true.

While Mike and Sean delighted in shocking visitors (or at least me) with the seedy leftovers they found in the rubble during the renovations, the project was a serious labor of love. I watched it happen: Metro's office was directly across the street. When the Cactus was finished, Mike proudly pointed out the trim in the entryway; it was purple, his late mom's favorite color. It was her life insurance that helped provide the kind of venture capital Mike and Sean needed but they'd never hoped to have.

Early on, it seemed the Cactus almost exclusively devoted itself to local music. Just about everyone played there--the Frontier Wives, the Endmen, Swing Party, Epic Rumors, to name some names--and as the club's reputation grew, they got to open for national touring bands. I could list scores of shows I thought were great, but the one I remember the most was a complete joke. Literally. The story: Then KSJS DJ Raffi Nalvarian (who many now know as King Raffi) invented a cover band called Chocolate Hot Dog. He cut a track, played the hell out of it on the radio and managed to draw some 300 people--enough to fill the Cactus, as I recall--to a live show. Raffi, whose heavy-metal regalia featured animal-print spandex pants stuffed with a whole drawer of tube socks, paraded across the stage with a motley crew of local celebs and musicians. They rocked the house. Those who weren't laughing their asses off were headbanging through the hits. (Months or years later, Raffi unleashed one of the first and most successful disco revivals in the nation at the Cactus.)

Sigh. I miss those nights at the Cactus. I have no idea what's happened there in the past few years, but I'm sorry that the dream has died.

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From the June 20-26, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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