Downtown’s indie dance scene has a discovery in Oddfellows

Cave of strange: Oddfellows was packed for Halloween.
Photo: Adam Shane

During a particularly atmospheric—and parallelistic—moment at Oddfellows’ August 14 soft opening, couples sat at darkened booths playing ouija boards while Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” aired on a TV screen above. The video’s fiery crosses burned an impression into my eyes. In a bar full of subversive religious imagery, they were nonetheless the most noticeable.

Later, Harvey Graham, owner/DJ of the new Downtown video bar and dance spot, smiled wide and called it just another example of the synchronicity that had colored both his venue and experience in Las Vegas up to that point. From his nearby bag, he pulled a copy of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s Synchronicity. I told him that was also the name of the first album I ever owned, and he nearly knocked over his beer. “By The Police?! This is awesome!”

Graham frequently evokes the unexplained and metaphysical, the phenomena of the mind, the secret and the unknown—as does his bar. Hence its name, inspired by the old fraternal society of lodges; the religious iconography; the ouija boards; the hidden dance room (soon to be further concealed by a swinging bookcase); and the waiting-to-be-installed neon beckon that merely reads IOOF (it’s a sign from an actual International Order of Oddfellows lodge). “I want it to be a place people discover,” Graham says.

It’s also the next in an evolving tradition of indie-centric Downtown hangs, albeit with the video-bar twist and a separate, dedicated dancefloor. Fixed weekly promos include Thursday’s funk/soul/’70s rock party Grits & Gravy, Footloose Friday’s alt-’80s reverie (Madonna aside) and Saturday’s New Noise, which focuses on rhythmic indie acts like Neon Indian, Shamir, Grimes and MGMT.

The latter party has a 20-year history, starting when Graham, 43, came of age at Orlando’s enduring Independent Bar—then called Barbarella. Owner John Gardner took Graham under his wing, taught him how to DJ and, in 2009, had him run a new Barbarella at Austin’s Red River Cultural District, back when the Texas capital’s so-called hipster scene was limited to a Beauty Bar. (Sound familiar?)

Fast-forward six years, when a Wired article on Downtown Project that featured an old Florida friend inspired Graham—then looking to open a bar/club on his own—to check out Vegas and, eventually, the downstairs Ogden space once occupied by the Scullery.

“These weird coincidences were happening, and I just felt like I was being pulled to do it here,” Graham says. “And this space was really what it was. I was like, this is perfect. To me, it was built to be a dance club.” He severed ties from Barbarella Austin—he still co-owns another in Houston—and signed the lease, joined by business partner/Austin DJ Jacob Travelle.

That mellow soft opening has evolved into word of mouth and busy weekends. The Halloween edition of New Noise saw a packed dancefloor and a hopping bar, where longtime Downtown bartender Tim Kam served up gin and tonics and vodka cranberrys, which he advertised pretentiously to troll craft-cocktail culture. Graham delighted in revealing Oddfellows’ menu almost as much as he does its synchronistic mojo. “I love this bar, I love my staff and I think we’ll have something special.”

Oddfellows 150 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #190 702-834-3377. Tuesday-Sunday, doors at 8 p.m., no cover.

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