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Best Dance Club: Matrix

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Station Square can be many things to many people: one of the most successful developments bordering Downtown, a great place to spot Pittsburgh's tourists, or just something on the other end of the Mon Incline. However, judging from the average Friday-night traffic patterns when college is in session, to most people on a weekend night, Station Square is a sweet place to shake it. Be it "that thing," a groove thing, what-ya-mama-gave-ya or your moneymaker.

This is especially true at Matrix.

Matrix is as hard to define as the name, and whatever definition you might come up with comes no nearer to explaining the club than that "Matrix" comes to defining Wachowskian Keanu Reeves pop philosophy. The club is sometimes affectionately referred to by club frequenters as "The 'Trix." This can also be hard to explain.

What can be safely said is that Matrix collects four clubs within a single layout: Club Liquid, Club Exit, Club Goddess and Club Velvet. One enters through Club Velvet, which is set up like a lounge with standing space and tables; comfy seating abounds. The coat check is here, as are the main bathrooms. There are mirrors above the bar, and a woman who works for the club may or may not be skillfully dancing on top of it, to the rhythms of Latin music.

It's a beautiful space to be in early in the night, as people cluster, buy drinks for their groups and orient themselves. (Just a heads-up, however: It's a bit less spacious at 20 to 2 on a Saturday night, when everyone is flushing out of the other three clubs, looking for boyfriends, coats, designated drivers and phone numbers.)

But you'll find most of the Matrix experience in the other three clubs. The crowd tends to flow from Club Velvet to Club Liquid, where electronica prevails -- specifically "Miami trance," which is distinct from, yet often known as, "techno." This is the most open of the four spaces, with the most lighting effects, as befits the music.

At this point in the Matrix, crowds usually diverge. The blue-pill choice: Club Goddess, where Top 40 songs -- and thus mostly hip hop, and dance remixes of pop -- are played, amidst a creamy décor backed by blown-up celebrity photo-portraits and gauzy drapes. The red-pill choice: Club Exit, in which '80s music prevails and movies from the period play on big screens.

Both attract healthy crowds, but the crowd at Exit tends to be a bit more eclectic. Bachelorette parties, groups of 30-ish women, packs of first-year university students and young professionals all play nice together and are prone to impromptu mish-mash dance circles ... especially if "Come On Eileen" is playing. When "Thriller" plays, it's practically like the "Time Warp" from Rocky Horror.

The bulk of the crowd washes back and forth between Club Goddess and Club Exit, or between Club Goddess and Club Velvet, and it's easy to see why. While Goddess is often the most popular of the four venues; it's also harder to get around, get a drink and get acquainted. So people bounce from less crowded areas into Goddess and then back again.

The fact that one club can be so many things to so many people is the secret of Matrix's appeal. That and the $1 Budweiser on Fridays.

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