Mission Underground

We’re fans of Johnson Drive — not to mention driving johnsons (buh-dum-bump). And we’re excited for the city of Mission’s “Gateway Project,” which will transform Johnson Drive into a pedestrian-friendly street of coolness. Before that change, though, we wanted to explore its bars — the ones located within walking distance of one another, anyway. Plus, some Night Ranger cohorts have bought homes in the area, and there’s nothing better than having a place to stumble toward after a bar tour.

On a recent Friday night, we met research assistants Cat, Eli and Erik at the surprisingly packed Clarette Club for some predrinking. As a Gordon Lightfoot sound-alike sang covers, we spotted what was probably the greatest compliment we’d ever received: The staff was clad in Clarette Club T-shirts that read “A sleazy good time” on the front. That’s a quote from a Night Ranger column that ran back in May 2003 about the double-C.

Forget the Pulitzer. There’s no greater honor than being quoted on a bar T-shirt.

Anyway, we found a table in the back, and as we drank, we discussed whether we could find a secret passage from the Clarette, which is located on the lower level of a strip mall, into the newish basement bar called 5401. By newish, we mean the remodeled basement of Lucky Brewgrille, which reopened as 5401 six weeks ago. Sadly, we couldn’t find the wormhole from sleaziness to clubiness.

When we walked over to 5401, it took a minute to assess the redesign. The cinder-block walls are now painted a soothing light-blue — very hospital-like — and blue neon accent the undercarriage of the bar. The space is more open, too. Gone are the booths (except in one corner); instead, low, rectangular ottomans provide makeout seating in the shadow of a large, fernlike plant.

On one side of the bar, DJs Sku and Konsept had set up shop for what the bar called Flash: Friday, and were spinning a fantastic mix that found room for both Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You” and Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly.” ABC BBD, indeed.

Naturally, all of this aural pleasure brought a ton of people to the dance floor, where there was an inordinate amount of butt-to-crotch grinding. The star of the night was a tall, curvy woman in gaucho pants. We first spotted her lap-dancing someone before sinking down and quasi-humping an ottoman. When we tried to pin her down for an interview, she fluttered away and went nuts on the dance floor. To paraphrase the words of ’80s one-hit wonder Animotion, whose “Obsession” Sku and Konsept played that night, she was like a butterfly, a wild butterfly. We wanted to collect and capture her. But not in a scary sexual stalker way.

Instead, we interrupted a makeout session at the bar and met 34-year-old Tony and Angie, who, when asked her age, replied, “Put me down as 16.”

“We’re the hottest couple in the room,” Tony proclaimed. He went on to tell us that he and Angie met at a gym. Did their eyes meet across the elliptical trainers? Or did he ask to spot her, wink-wink, nudge-nudge? Tony laughed and said, “There’s a lot of spotting going on.”

We wanted to pry more, but then Tony asked, not unkindly, “How much longer? We want to dance!” So we let them go and met a group of equally reticent women at the bar. Tammy, Shanda and Sha (pronounced Shay) knew each other from their days at Wyandotte High School. We asked if they were single, and 24-year-old Shanda answered, “We want to be!”

“Say that we are,” requested 30-year-old Tammy. Oooh, scandalicious!

We wanted to know what the deal was, but all Shanda would say, cryptically, was, “We are, just for tonight.” We left it at that and took a break from socializing to refresh our tall vanilla Stoli and Coke and people-watch. Though 5401 drew a great, mixed crowd, we also liked it because the basement wasn’t packed. As the night progressed, so did the raucousness of the dancers. A bearded, collegiate type in a plaid shirt who seemed more Colorado-y than clubby had his frontal area rubbed upon by the buttocks of his bent-over female companion. We also watched a group of guys standing near a post. One man in a black shirt seemed to be a fairly good dancer, but we were more entertained by the mandal-wearing guy who seemed to be carefully watching Black Shirt and imitating his moves.

But hey, we’re not ones to mock. One of our research assistants, like a somewhat inebriated Spider-Man, jumped up, grabbed onto a horizontal I-beam and pulled his legs up to the beam. A staffer came over and nicely told him to get down — off the beam, that is, and not in a boogie-oogie-oogie way. “The I-beam is my beam,” the RA said. That’s when we figured out that it was time to go.

As we headed out, we spotted a chick in a white tube top, jeans and white leather tennis shoes totally straddling some guy. The multicolored triangle of her string bikini thong was exposed. We tried to be discreet about our gaping, but our I-beam-friendly RA was dispensing some more pearls of wisdom. “I violated all the white-boy rules. I leaned with it, and I rocked with it.”

If that slogan isn’t T-shirt-worthy, we don’t know what is. Well, unless it’s something like “Mission position = johnson drive.” Grinding optional.

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