Nestled amid the garish, behemoth neon signage that announces the Alibi, the Crown Motel and Glenn's Motor Inn on North Interstate Avenue is a gift to the potentials of Portland's hip-hop scene.
Whizzing by on the Interstate MAX, you could almost mistake it for a storage facility. But if you're inside on a Wednesday night, it's a rubber-bodied drop-'n'-roll jam session of sweaty limbs and rhythm. Some bars have open-mic nights. Wax has open-floor break dancing.
On the fledgling club's busiest night, b-boys of all ages are knocking fists on the floor like long-lost brothers, and the b-girls (all two of them) are trading tips on perfecting the elbow spin. Tonight, 20 eager dancers share a specially installed square of flooring that accommodates two or three of them at a time, while meandering spectators take advantage of the ample couches and black-curtained corners: Industrial hideout meets clubhouse.
I'm one of those viewers taking it all in, feeling giddy over a blacklit Red Bull-infused mocktail and a cute, possibly underage, boy.
"You know what color I love? I LOVE pink," he says, pointing out a few shades on the shirts of fellow clubbers. A debate ensues over which color he'll use on the mural he's painting for the club. Wax actually boasts an official "graffiti room," just a vent away from being operational: a glass-walled annex marked with the legend "Love life. Live hip-hop" near the club's entrance.
Shannon Guthrie, 27, and Sara Moskovitz, 25, Wax's owners, are the ones paying for all the paint. After putting on shows in the flourishing San Diego hip-hop scene, the pair pulled up SoCal stakes and relocated to Moskovitz's old Portland neighborhood. Wax is their attempt to create a haven for hip-hop enthusiasts as well as an alternative to the usual underage haunts like Nocturnal and the Meow Meow.
The results, so far, are a Saturday mainstream hip-hop night and Wednesday-night "Open Breakdancing," an event that lures dancers from as far as Oregon City and Salem. Tonight a 7-year old stands in front of me working on his legwork while his dad takes his turn on the floor.
The energy of Wax isn't just in its ambition to nurture the hop-heads of tomorrow, though.
"It's not that we don't want to grow up," Shannon says through one of the butterscotch smiles he uses on shy high-schoolers. "It's that hip-hop keeps you young."
5101 N Interstate Ave., 283-9093. Check www.waxpdx.com for the club's weekly schedule of breakdancing lessons, poetry slams, open-mic freestyles and emcee battles.