Once upon a time there was a nightclub in Charleston called The Treehouse. If you were one of the regulars that was lucky enough to discover it early, you were witness to something magical. There were several bars in town that catered to the gay crowd, but there was nothing like The Treehouse. The sign on the door read:
They meant it.
The first time I went to The Treehouse I was mesmerized. I had been to clubs in Seattle, Atlanta and Manhattan and nothing compared to it. The Treehouse felt like home. It wasn't so huge that you were just another person in the crowd. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. For the next couple of years you could find me on the dance floor... eyes closed, hearing Jesse spin and feeling the vibration of the music rise from the dance floor and work it's way up my body. At times there would be so many people on the dance floor that I just knew it would collapse and we'd all end up on the first floor. There was one song by The Movement called 'Jump' where you could actually feel the floor move up and down as people bounced all over. It was divine.
On a normal day, during that time, I would work my shift from 4pm-12am and after changing my clothes in the bathroom I would head out to pick up friends. It seemed that I was always the taxi cab for wayward gay boys! After dancing for several hours - this was before clubs were forced to close at 2am - we would walk over to Fannies on Market Street for breakfast. Our server Sherrie was always lovely and incredibly patient with all of us clubbers. Mike (RIP) was always behind the grill cooking up whatever we wanted. Sometimes, after breakfast, a few of us would head over to the beach to watch the sun rise. This was most every night of the week. We were young and living in the moment and it was beautiful.
The entrance to The Treehouse was down an alley on George Street. Being a V.I.P. member one of the benefits was never having to wait in line, which sometimes was down the street. I remember walking past at least one hundred people toward the entrance of the club one night and a girl shouted to us as we walked by "Excuse me, are we going to the same club because I've been waiting for an hour!" I hoped that we didn't bump into her an hour or so later when she finally gained entrance!
Everyone I know who was a part of that magic remembers it the same way I do. A while after The Treehouse opened things really changed. People in the suburbs, mostly straight, would hear stories about all the crazy happenings at the club and decided to check it out for themselves. Sadly, those people never left and The Treehouse eventually lost that home-away-from-home feeling for most of us. We might as well have been dancing at Illusions on Rivers Avenue. In 1992 the owner, Ron, sent out this letter to V.I.P. members:
The Treehouse slowly lost it's faithful clientele that made it the legendary club that it became and eventually closed because of it. The Treehouse building remained vacant for a while and eventually had a pretty bad fire due to some people squatting and I believe two people perished in the fire. I'm not sure who inhabits 348 King Street now. I need to remind myself to look next time I pass by.
Fast forward 15 years...
Ron Klenk has passed away, we've all grown to be 40-somethings and this past Saturday Jenn Klenk hosted a Treehouse reunion party at Club Pantheon. My friend Jim came to town from Greenville and stayed with Robin and I for the occasion. We went to dinner at Hyman's and then headed to Pantheon. I already contacted most of my Treehouse-loving friends in hopes that they would meet me there. We arrive just after they opened, grabbed a cocktail and watched people as they arrived. For the first two hours it was kind of slow and then the old Treehouse DJ, Jesse, started spinning. I was really hoping he would play some of the old tunes from The Treehouse, but he only played a couple. I was bummed. Regardless of the music Jesse plays, he definitely knows how to get the crowd on the dance floor, including myself. I'm definitely not in my early twenties anymore so there was no way I was going to dance from opening to close like I did back in the day!
I knew I wouldn't recognize a lot of people, but I was really glad that I saw my favorite former waitress, Sherrie! I haven't seen her in years and it was so great to hug her again! I did see an old friend on the dance floor but when I went to look for him he had disappeared and I never ran into him. I was glad that I had several friends there with me... Of course my girl Robin, Chantel, Paul, Teresa, Jim, Mark, my sister Traci and her girlfriend Tanya. We had a really great time!
All of this was planned by Jenn via a Facebook group. On March 5th she wrote this letter that really summed the legend of The Treehouse up:
Treehouse tradition was that at the end of the night the last song played was ALWAYS 'We Are Family' by Sister Sledge. I wondered to myself if they were going to do the same thing tonight. Sure enough, right around 2am I heard that old familiar tune start. I was on the dance floor and I paused for a moment and looked around me. You could definitely tell who were the Treehouse regulars and who were the regular club-goers at Pantheon. The Treehouse people got so excited when they heard this song. There was cheering, hugging, clapping and pure joy. It meant so much to all of us back in the day. I still think of The Treehouse everytime I hear it.
When I was scanning the crowd I looked at how young some of the people were. I guessed that some of these kids were probably 5 or 6 years old when the rest of use were basking in the glory of The Treehouse. It almost like we all had this secret... this monumental thing in common, a confidential club and the membership was closed forevermore.
I didn't dance to "We Are Family"... I just listened and watched and remembered. I knew that this part of my life was long over and really, I'm a totally different person now. It was nice to go back and revisit those memories again, but like they say... you can never go home again (but we will always be family!)