I pull into what looks like a Harley-Davidson convention in the parking lot of Rox. Gathered outside the main entrance is an assortment of burly fellows in matching leather vests, which identify them as members of the Nevada, California and Indiana chapters of the Mongols. Keeping eye contact to a bare minimum, I make my way inside.
Formerly Hidden Secrets, Rox has had a rock ’n’ roll makeover, its walls covered with guitars and albums—some signed by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, The Rolling Stones and the Eagles—but there are still a few telltale signs of the joint’s strip-club history. The Hidden Secrets logos on the chairs are cleverly concealed by patches, but a lingering stripper pole here and there still gives it away. The main stage, however, has been cleared for bands and bands alone, although right now a lone member of the Mongols is standing at the mic, reading numbers off of tickets.
“Four, zero, five, three,” he reads, holding aloft a coupon for motorcycle tires.
Ah, the infamous biker-gang raffles. I’ve heard of these.
Actually, the Mongols wind up being total sweethearts—leather-clad sweethearts with more ink on their arms than actual skin pigment, but sweethearts nonetheless. But the motorcycle club gathering is unique to tonight. It’s always a different experience at Rox.
The previous night, I walked in to find the local band Solidify performing. They had their own small gathering of young, twentysomething fans, the lead singer kneeling at the edge of the stage in order to serenade a dancing couple with the quiet intro of a song that didn’t stay quiet for long.
Afterward, the whole band signed a drum stick and left it to be hung over the bar, alongside 47 other drum sticks from all the bands that have performed at the bar. According to Denny Baughman, assistant and husband to co-owner Bonnie Baughman, Rox is all about live music.
“A few nights a week, we’re using cover bands, which is classical rock,” he says, “but they don’t bring in nearly as many fans as some of the original bands, which have their own following. I try to give local bands a chance to be heard in Las Vegas, when they have nowhere else to go. No one will give them their first break, so some of these bands have never performed outside the garage before. This is their first stage.”
The result is that any night can have a completely different flavor than the previous night. With the emphasis shifting from classic rock to metal to rockabilly, you never know what to expect. Denny admits he’s had the occasional disaster resulting from this kindness to up-and-comers, but it’s also given him a few amusing anecdotes.
“We had this one local band here a while back,” he says, “and the crowd loved ’em. But then they just played four songs and said good night. The DJ kept pushing them to play more, and finally the lead singer admitted, ‘Um ... we only know four songs.’”
Earlier this week, a band came in with a huge legion of fans, but when Denny took a stroll around the room, he noticed that no one was drinking. After confirming that the bartenders and cocktail servers were, in fact, doing their jobs, he eventually discovered that the band was straight-edge, which meant that its fans abstained from recreational drug use, tobacco-smoking and—unfortunately for bar sales—alcohol. It wasn’t the most lucrative night. Fortunately, Denny brings in enough big acts to recoup expenses. Juliette Lewis and the Licks will perform on November 30.
I stick around to listen to the Larry Travis Blues Band play a selection of classics, including “Pride and Joy” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and what sounds a lot like Santana’s “Evil Ways,” although I don’t remember the lyrics being, “You’d better change your underwear, baby.” Finally, in the early a.m. hours, I bid farewell to the Mongols and call it a night.
Heathen the bartender lets me out the back door, and we stand around in the parking lot for a few minutes, chatting about his Depeche Mode fixation while a cop car cruises by ... followed by another, and another, and then two more. Uh-oh. We wonder what the problem could be. Moments later, a cop strolls around the corner, looking particularly authoritative and assertive.
“Who does your music?” he asks.
“Well ... what do you mean?” Heathen replies.
“We’ve got a friend who has a band, and we were wondering who does your booking,” the officer explains.
“Oh, right this way,” Heathen says, with obvious relief, ushering the officer inside.