January 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Here are the town eccentrics, the artists, the kings and queens of drag, those who love to dance and those attempting to hook up. Here are the civilized, but just as often the debauchers and hedonists, the flat-out jerks, and, at certain times, the tittering bachelorette bacchanals and the best and worst of Husker fandom.

This is the Omaha that dies every Monday morning, then rises again on weekend nights. And they flock to a distinct dance club in droves, all of them, proving—contrary to a well-worn blurb The New York Times issued once upon a time—The Max is no longer the place to be on Saturday nights. It’s the place where everyone is on Saturday nights.

And tonight, I am one of them.

“People coming to The Max for the first time think we just recently opened,” says Stosh Moran, one of the club’s staple personalities and partner of owner Bruce Barnard. “There’s a full crew working during the day to keep The Max looking fresh and new. Bruce is constantly ordering new lights and keeping on top of what’s new and trending.”

It’s too dark to tell, but I think I’ve discovered the lekking grounds of an ancient cult. That is, until a strobe flare overpowers a darkness flecked with polychromatic pin spots and lasers. I’m in the disco hall, the club’s most popular room, and a heavy fog of human flesh has been revealed. The air is surprisingly sweet, despite the stagnant humidity generated from perspiring bodies. I move amongst the movement, but I’m not drunk enough yet to dance.

The blast of light expires and a throng of swaying silhouettes returns. A shirtless man tugs at the bulge in another man’s jeans, drawing him in closer. Two women grind arrhythmically as their mouths attempt to meet, and the hands of a middle-aged man trace the curves of a middle-aged woman’s body. The dance floor doesn’t discriminate.

“No funny business, but can I touch your beard?” a young disciple of loosened inhibitions asks. “Just once. Seriously, no funny business.”

“Okay,” I say, because, you know, I’m at The Max, and at what other time can I entertain such an odd request?

As he pets my face, I close my eyes and dissolve into the soundscape, which is loud and hypnotic. “Turn Down For What” segues into a remix of “Baby Got Back” to the tune, or rather rhythm, of “Shots.” My foot inadvertently taps to the chanting of “Butts,” but I’m less entranced by the Top-40 pop of yore than the pulsating kick drum that accompanies every tune. It’s the heart of the club, the bringer of life. The same thump that I had felt under 15th Street as I made my way on foot to the multiplex.

“I remember being shocked by the sheer breadth of it—the multiple rooms, multiple DJs, and endless bars,” says Homorazzi blogger, Nic Opp, who reviewed The Max last year. “I think in the gay communities across North America, we’re more used to seeing the traditional dive bar that we have all mostly grown so fond of. In major cities, you see the bigger spaces as expected, but it was completely unexpected of Omaha as an outsider.”

I retreat to a room called the Arena, which radiates the sensation of slow motion, especially after experiencing the disco hall. Here, the contrast of bright and dark dissolves to an ocher dim. Hip-hop plays at half-volume and half-speed, and a small, esoteric cult pantomimes carnal rhythms on the showroom stage. I’m a convert, but only in spirit, for I’ve found a comfortable spot at the bar. Oh, and more importantly I’ve found God, or a real-life bartender that acknowledges I exist.

This, of course, is not an indictment on the club’s service, but a testament to the capacity they host. And what with the wild pack of rum-thirsty bros roaming the facility at all hours, it’s amazing that anyone gets a drink at all. But The Max gives us all the sort of room we need to find relief from our working lives, whether it be in the main floor lounge, the upstairs billiards lounge, the outdoor garden, the disco hall or the Arena.

“It’s unlike any other environment in Omaha,” says Mike Mogler, who isn’t afraid to take his shirt down a few buttons and leave it all on the dance floor. “It’s a place to be yourself and have as much fun as possible. It’s also the best place to dance in Nebraska!”

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