Beer and Billy Joel vs. candle wax and leather whip

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January 10, 2005 // UPDATED 1:47 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Ellen Gabler
Ellen Gabler

To each their own at The Front and Ground Zero

The Front and Ground Zero

15 NE 4th St.

378-5115

Hours and cover charges: Ground Zero: Thursday-Saturday, 10 p.m.2 a.m.; $6 cover

The Front: Wednesday-Saturday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m.; no cover

Forget bars where everyone knows your name. At this double-club duo, everyone knows your underwear, your stretch marks and those fetishes most people leave handcuffed to their bedposts.

Bobbling bondage, yes bondage, with Billy Joel, Ground Zero and The Front entertain opposite crowds with equally passionate style.

Whether you're next in line for a whipping from the Ground Zero dominatrix or about to star in your own '80s dance party at The Front, just remember, this is Minneapolis, not the movies. And it's certainly not Cheers.

What's hot

What's "hot" depends on whom you ask. Young, 20- and 30-year-olds who want to dance, drink and party with friends will love The Front's sing-along music, drink specials and high-energy vibe.

Meanwhile, those trolling at Ground Zero, will probably scoff at the neighboring club's chipper atmosphere as they head upstairs to watch Mistress Jean chain, whip and tweak the nipples of her latest paying customer.

That's right, Ground Zero is home to "Bondage a Go-Go" - the bar's decade-long dominatrix show held every Thursday and Saturday night.

Yes, some consider it strange for 40 strangers to cluster around cheap restaurant tables and watch a scantily clad woman swat the bare bum of a man wearing a pink, frilly thong.

Others, however, like Joe, 46, don't give it a second thought.

Joe doesn't wear pink thongs, but he does pay the dominatrix $20 each week to pour hot candle wax on his chest after blindfolding and restraining him to a chair with Saran Wrap.

"There are a lot of things that don't float my boat," Joe said. "This thing does."

Both men and women pay in tips for the dominatrix to tantalize and torture them, although some prefer just to watch.

One 25-year-old observer, who wished to remain anonymous, stressed the importance of an open mind, suggesting that whips and chains were as regular as football and Sunday brunch.

"Why not? It's interesting. It's life," she said. "An aspect of life anyway."

What's not

Obviously the bondage scene is a little intense for people used to flirting with coeds and sipping Miller Lites at the bar.

Manager Chuck Batdorf, however, said it's important people know the spanking, slapping and shocking from Mistress Jean doesn't happen to each customer that walks through the door.

"Not to worry, you are not going to get tied up," he said. "Only if you want to will you get tied up."

Patrons next door might feel similar restraints - as The Front gets so packed with people you can hardly move at times.

The scene

The Front really is just an open, smoky area (until spring at least) with plenty of room to shake it. The place is usually dead 'til midnight, then almost instantly turns into a full house around 12:30 or 12:45 a.m.

Dirty Dan the DJ is a big-time hero of the regulars, and takes requests all night long: "The DJ plays whatever you want," said Jennifer, 34.

Besides its niche in the bondage world, Ground Zero serves as a hangout for the Goth and industrial-music-loving crowd. A large downstairs dance floor and stage allows for heavy head-banging to the "crunchier" music regulars like, Batdorf said.

The crowd

Tolerant, open-minded people seem to grace each bar, and are a major draw for people tired of pretentious Downtowners sipping martinis or hot toddies in their Uggs.

The Front draws a younger, drunker group that's looking for a dance party. At Ground Zero, Batdorf says there's lots of "dark-siders, rivet heads [industrial music fans], Gothers and mainstreamers."

Drinks and hours

Drinks at both bars cost the same: bottles of beer $3.50 each, mixed drinks $3.75.

If you're serious about drinking on the cheap, you'll want to hit up The Front's famous three nights of two-for-ones: Thursday, 9 p.m.-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 9-10:30 p.m.

Strangely enough, the times you really need booze - while Mistress Jean rips clothespins from the skin of her prey - drink specials are out the window.

Ground Zero only has two-for-ones on "domination-free nights," Fridays, 9-10:30 p.m.

The verdict

Both spots are an interesting stop off the beaten path, and lend the opportunity to talk with red-faced dancing fools or red-touchd folks in frilly thongs all in one night.