Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

DeSoto's lives again ... for one cherry night

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IN the mid-1980s, Winnipeggers flocked to a nostalgia-themed nightclub that was more American Grafitti than Flashdance.

Now the alumni dancers and employees of DeSoto's Cabaret are holding a reunion for all former staff and customers who may be nostalgic for nostalgia. It takes place June 11 at King's Head Pub.

"It was great to be part of a young staff at a packed club that had so much energy," says Alison Mayes, a former Winnipeg Free Press arts reporter who was one of the original DeSoto's dancers. "We used to have lineups every night, waiting to get in."

The Exchange District nightclub opened in 1985 at 171 McDermot Ave. It was around the corner from the similarly popular Rorie Street Marble Club.

DeSoto's was modelled on a chain of nightclubs in the United States called Studebaker's that played 1950s and '60s music and featured dancing waitresses and bartenders.

The DJ booth was shaped like a giant jukebox and the club DJs were under strict orders not to play any song released after 1969. Every half hour, the dance floor was cleared and a troupe of dancers in short, pleated skirts performed two numbers.

"We lip-synched to songs like Leader of the Pack and It's My Party and danced to stuff like the Twist and At the Hop," Mayes says. The club's young choreographer was Brenda Gorlick, who has gone on to a successful career in musical theatre.

The club became so popular that it was expanded into the warehouse next door, adding a second dance floor.

Rock 'n roll pioneer Bo Diddley once visited after a concert. Another memorable night was the appearance of legendary radio host Wolfman Jack as the guest DJ. He lived up to his reputation as an unruly character.

"Either no one told the Wolfman he was only supposed to play 1950s and '60s music, or he didn't care," Mayes recalls. "I think the very first song he played was Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. We were so excited to hear a song from the '80s, we ran onto the dance floor and started dancing with the customers."

Mayes says it's sad that DeSoto's original DJ, Eldon Keller, didn't live to see the staff reunite. Keller, one of Winipeg's best known club DJs of the 1980s, died recently in Saskatchewan.

For more information, go to www.facebook.com/DesotosReunion.

-- Staff

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 G3

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