PHOTO BY JOE DONOVAN
Two years ago, Leslie Bock, the owner of the Psycho Suzi’s empire, was sitting in a hotel lobby in California’s Coachella Valley. The lobby had the word “DRUGS” in block letters above the concierge desk, an irreverent nod to the region’s tenuous reputation as both a place for recovery and total destruction. Think Betty Ford who came to the valley to sober up or Hunter S. Thompson who went to fall apart. “I didn’t know what it meant,” Bock says, “and I thought, ‘That’s cool.’” An older couple who were also in the hotel lobby thought otherwise, but to Bock, they just didn’t understand its duality.
“DRUGS” also appears in block letters above the bar of Mr. Steven’s Snuggery, Bock’s newest experiment in North Minneapolis. The bar embraces that same paradoxical values of the Coachella Valley—both a place of healing and destruction—in the former location of Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den.
Bock had been interested in this contradiction but wasn’t sure how to make such a place for people to attend back in Minneapolis. When she first imagined the bar a year and a half ago, she knew that she wanted to make a place that ribbed people but was also fun. “I wish to have better, deeper, more fascinating conversations than I have been experiencing, especially in the last few years or so,” says Bock.
The Snuggery is, in essence, a very niche-type of cocktail party that is designed to offend the easily offended. Bock believes that this kind of provoking allows people to converse with strangers. If the older couple from the hotel were to attend the Snuggery, they’d probably shake their heads at the prevalence of pornographic images, the irreverent neon signs, and multiple bar games that, for instance, ask party-goers to sketch out sex acts.
Even before you get to the Snuggery, it continually suggests that it’s more than just a bar. They encourage you to buy tickets beforehand. After paying the $37 entry fee (which is reasonable, considering the open bar scenario), the Snuggery sends you an email confirmation that “promises to give you the best climax you’ve ever had.” You’re instructed to show up promptly at 6:00 p.m. for the “Foreplay” session or 8:30 for the “Climax” session.
The bar also continually seems to suggest I would be offended or uneasy with attending an event like this. I wasn’t so much uneasy about the bar as I was about going alone even though the website encourages people to attend solo, writing, “This is an ideal environment for the solo human.”
At its worse, the Snuggery stifles conversation instead of encouraging it. Minutes into the “Climax” session, patrons were answering the question, “How to end poverty once and for all” with cards from the game Cards Against Humanity. It wasn’t really that funny or thought-provoking. The joke instead indicated the party’s distance from poverty and the people who lived in this neighborhood. Instead of talking, we were searching for the most politically incorrect playing cards.
After a few minutes, however, the Snuggery homed in a little more on Bock’s vision for conversation reborn. After settling in, a bartender asked for a quiet room and announced an ice breaker question. “When does fear infringe upon our freedom?”
PHOTO by Joe Donovan
Turns out, many people have a lot to say about freedom and fear. A man wearing a crisp pressed shirt and a Cossack-style fur hat mentioned gun control. A woman who worked as a Braillist and who was my conversation partner for most of the night began naming her greatest fears. Everyone was open to meeting and talking with new people. During the two hour event, I was approached by about five different groups who all wanted to chat and get to know one another, and I learned that having a cocktail party in a vaguely dystopian setting with very interesting strangers is actually a lot of fun.
Maybe this is why the Snuggery feels like a bar from an older time. The openness to talk with strangers makes it feel like a time when people maybe didn’t have so many reasons not to talk. The aesthetic is also decidedly vintage. Rotary phones are stationed in each one of the booths. There is a clear appreciation of crushed velvet.
If the Snuggery has a conceptual problem, it’s how the bar seems to assume that a little bit of booze and a plethora of dirty signs is enough to connect people with vastly different backgrounds. It’s a simplified and unproductive solution. The Snuggery contends that “taking yourself too seriously” is a big reason why we live in the so-called echo-chamber. If we didn’t take ourselves so seriously, the bar maintains, then many of our problems would cease to be problems.
Like the Coachella Valley, the Snuggery appeals mostly to white people who funnel into this North Minneapolis locale for approximately two hours and then ship back to wherever they came from. The bartender at Boom Island, which is across the ally, once told me that he closes his bar at 10 because the the neighborhoods are historically “too rough” at midnight.
Still, the Snuggery is fun, not so much because of the bar, but instead because of the types of people who are attracted to this sort of thing. Contradictions aside, the people who showed up to the Snuggery were ready to have a good time.
When a man in a leopard print collar shirt emerged from a booth to join our conversation, he decided to weigh in, explaining in a matter-of-fact tone that more Somalis live in Minneapolis than in Somalia. I wasn’t offended at this comment, but his level of certainty bothered me. Internally, I was having a “Choose Your Own Adventure” moment. Should I address the man further or should I just let it slide?
Bock mentioned that the Snuggery is designed to bring these moments to the fore. A place where beliefs, facts, and backgrounds actually collide. This is what happens at parties, but it probably happens less now than ever before. It’s this kind of encounter that Bock believes is important. “Mr. Steven’s attempts to let you dig deeper before forming an opinion, so if nothing else, you’ll have a good time entertaining yourself,” she says. “We’re attempting to show humans as messy and complicated, not one dimensional, one-issue robots from outer space.”
In other words, it’s good to talk to people who are vastly different from yourself. Deep into my third Old Fashioned, I thought back to the Coachella Valley, this place of ruin and salvation. Even those who don’t buy Bock’s evangelist vision might find the bar’s quirkiness to make for an interesting night out. When the bar spat me out at 10:30, I was little bit ruined but also a little bit healed.
PHOTO by joe Donovan