November 30, 2006

Local Flavor

Print More

Whereas I had spent my first three years at Cornell rooting out decent house parties, my twenty-first birthday turned Collegetown into a playground of alcoholic possibilities. Any bitterness harbored towards my older friends disappeared, and I suddenly found myself appreciating those throngs of students lining the sidewalk between Collegetown Pizza and Ruloff’s, the cop cars slowly cruising down Dryden, the drunk freshmen dodging TCAT buses in high heels. However, Ithaca offered little for those of us who, hailing from urbanity, enjoy the acrobatics of balancing a drink while dancing through the early morning hours.
Let’s review our options. The interior of Ruloff’s is cozy, but “Paradise City” is hardly danceable; furthermore, I can barely stomach much more of “SexyBack,” which I swear I’ve heard each and every time I’ve passed by Dino’s. Stella’s usually has an excellent playlist (where else can you hear Ghostface Killah, Daft Punk and Beck in the same hour?), but the spatial bottlenecking is more conducive to lounging than it is to dancing. As for Ithaca’s self-designated dance scene, well, the only thing more ridiculous than Club Euphoria’s downtown location is its perpetual lack of a liquor license, and, for whatever reason, the dance floor is always empty when I venture down to Level B. Despite my obvious tendency to criticize, friends, I wish to end this semester with a message of hope and promise for a better tomorrow. Indeed, just a jaunt down Dryden and tucked in the red alley behind Subway, Pixel Lounge is emerging from its social obscurity to become a predator within the competitive Ithaca nightlife. Ethics deem that I explain how I came to know about Pixel. A little over two years ago, my friend brought me to what was then merely an up-and-coming coffee bar. In its early stages, Pixel featured over a dozen arcade and pinball machines, a few couches set up around Nintendo’s, tables with color-shifting lights, soundless movies projected on the wall with a mix of lounge and electro-jazz coming from the speakers. Infatuated, I befriended the owners — who were then the only employees as well — and eventually pestered my way into becoming their first official barista.
After a year of slow growth, Pixel applied for a liquor license and we parted ways: I needed the daytime hours a bar couldn’t provide, while they needed someone who could make something other than a sub-par vodka tonic. It wasn’t until I turned twenty-one that I was able to see how the bar was truly evolving into a unique venture, maintaining their commitment to art and music while catering to a more mature crowd. Aside from the ever-changing list of martinis and a slight shift in décor, the most important change was the installation of a dance floor and DJ booth, both set up in front of whatever film Jim — the remaining owner of Pixel — decides to project. And frankly, Ithaca has some damn good DJ’s (like Cornell Electronic Music Collective, which rocks), and a number of them have featured sets at Pixel. Friday nights often spotlight an interesting mix of hip-hop, funk, and soul from DJ Double A; you can hear the very latest in UK electro house from DJ Beck, who seems to have a monopoly on Saturday nights.
Dancing to mainstream music is nice, and whoever’s spinning will often throw a bone to his gracious audience. However, the indie and underground truly reign at Pixel, which is refreshing – and surprisingly, it works. Aside from my disastrous Girl Talk experience, I’ve never seen so many people dancing in an Ithaca venue. True, some DJs can go a bit “wedding,” and there’s always that one guy who decides to use the empty dance floor to try out all those moves he’d practiced in his dorm room the night before. Yes, this is lame, but should certainly not discourage prospective dancers. Pixel’s patrons always seem to gravitate towards the dance floor, hesitant at first, but ready to let go once they get a little alcohol in their system; the floor is often crowded with strangers at closing time.
With rising complaints about the upcoming Starbucks invasion and rumors of Collegetown’s further commercialization, I urge you all to take heart that there is something very unexpected right down the street — and for those of you looking for an alternative to the standard bar experience, you owe it to yourself to put on your Friday best and scour every alley in Ithaca until you find Pixel’s graffiti’d façade.