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Gavin's Underground

Party Utah

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-05-11 -

When it comes to the nightlife, papers and columns and even blogs like mine try our best to cover it all, but the truth is we can't be everywhere at once. There is however a user driven collection of sites that's doing its best to do just that.
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  PartyUtah has been going strong since 2002 as one of the premiere stops for club coverage in the state. Teaming up with a network of photographers and frequent clubbers, the website has gained a dedicated following and is one of the few websites that's managed to both showcase the ever changing scene around us while also acquiring a list of fellow sites to further expand and promote. I got a chance to chat with owner and creator Daryl Acumen about the website and its history, the scene itself, changes to clubs and alcohol laws, and a number of other topics.

Daryl Acumen
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http://www.partyutah.com/

Gavin: Hey Daryl, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Daryl: I'm an Internet business analyst by trade, specializing in web marketing analytics. I've been in the field for ten years now. I spent three years as the Senior Business Analyst for Network Solutions (the company that owned Dot Com before the crash) and left in 2002 to become the first Analytic and Best Practices Consultant at little company called Omniture. Today Omniture is the largest web analytic and business optimization software provider in the world with over 5,000 customers and 1,400 employees...I was employee #25. I have a wife, a stepson, and a cat named after a famous Japanese statistician. I'm Black and no I did not vote for Obama.

Gavin: How did you first get into the clubbing scene?

Daryl: I assume you mean here in Utah. I was a heavy clubber back in Maryland way before I moved here and when I agreed to interview with Omniture, I made sure to tack a few extra days onto my trip so I could inspect the local club scene. Knowing the state was heavily LDS, I wanted to be certain there WAS a club scene before I uprooted and moved two thousand miles from my crew! The truth is I probably would have taken the job anyway, but visiting Port O' Call, Papiyons (spelled wrong for some reason) and Manhattan reassured me that Utah was in fact a safe bet. After the move, I made it my mission to know where all the hottest places in the state were on any given night of the week. Since I didn't have any friends or family out here, it seemed the best way to keep from going stir-crazy in my apartment and running up huge long distance bills.

Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up the website?

Daryl: Originally I just needed a test website to try implementation and analytic techniques for my day job at Omniture. I didn't want to get stuck talking to a client about things I'd never actually tried. A colleague of mine by the name of Keith Westover suggested that I create a message board because it had the potential to generate enough data to make analysis interesting. The original PartyUtah.com was a simple ‘Snitz' message board with categories for every genre of music, every night of the week. I figured if the website caught on and people posted all the hottest places to go in town, it would at least save me the time and gas of driving around town trying to find hotspots on my own. I seeded the original website by asking all my ex girlfriends to join the board and post (a really stupid idea in retrospect, but it worked). One of my exes was very popular in the GLBT scene because she lived with a house full of gay men who loved to party. When she told them about the site, they all went nuts, told all their friends, and PartyUtah.com became the biggest gay website in Utah! It took me six months or so to realize I needed to diversify and I started UtahNights.com (which is the current PartyUtah.com homepage) as a straight alternative to the gay site. The result is pretty much what you see today.

Gavin: Did you believe there was enough of a scene for material and to catch on, or was it more of a risk in your mind?

Daryl: There was no risk. I knew there was a scene already because I was going out three and four times a week enjoying it. The original site didn't cost much to maintain and the risk of being stuck at home because I didn't know where to go one night was much more intimidating than losing a few dollars on hosting.

Gavin: After you got the site setup how did you start getting pictures?

Daryl: The original photo gallery was a feature request made by few of our early users. Angela Saxby had been taking photos to promote SLCParty.com since early 2002, but I didn't really notice. It didn't really occur to me at first that the photos could be a promotional tool. I just thought of it as a cool feature and a way to keep my users happy. I still have those original pictures on my server somewhere, but none were taken by me. After a year or so I bought an Altoid camera (a little Pentax that you could hide inside an Altoid box) and dropped by Natalie's to show it off to a bartender buddy of mine there. I told him I was considering sneaking around to the different clubs at night and taking photos of the hottest spots in town so people could see how cool each club was before they went out. I remember he wasn't impressed and told me it would never work because bar owners would get mad and probably throw me out, so I shelved the idea (and the camera) for the next two years. It wasn't until 2004 that I finally bought a real camera and worked up the nerve to ask the owner of SkyBar if I could take some promo shots in his club for my website in exchange for free advertising. He agreed and the rest is history! I think I eventually gave the old Altoid camera to my mother.

Gavin: Did you seek out photographers at any time or did people approach you?

Daryl: In 2008 I got married and it wasn't really in the cards to keep going out four and five nights per week taking photos to promote the site. I decided that I needed some help. At first it was just one photographer named Ruth Ruiz, but as demand grew, so did the team. Today we have ten photographers on staff and every one of them is at least twice as good as I was in my prime! Most have forgotten more about photography than I will ever know. As much as I'd love to dust off my DSLR and go shooting with them, these days it just makes more sense to stay at home and let the pros do all the work. I figure the more time my camera spends on the floor in my den, the more my legend will grow!

Gavin: What's the reaction been from both clubbers and the clubs themselves over the photos?

Daryl: Clubbers love our photographers! Our team knows how to make people look bitchin', so the response to our work has been overwhelmingly positive. Unlike some outfits from Vegas and California, we try to keep the site work-safe and skirt-friendly and people respect that. The clubs are pretty evenly split in their enthusiasm for the photos and the advertising. Some are more excited about the photos because they show people how much fun each event can be. Others use our special photo/advertising bundles as an inexpensive way to get me to increase their ad impressions. The general consensus among club owners and promoters is that the pictures are a fun, sexy way to get people's attention before they decide where they're going to spend the evening. All around, the feedback has been uniformly positive.

Gavin: How did the decision come about to start up some of the other websites?

Daryl: Actually most of the other websites were acquisitions. Back in 2006 I did a research report for a large, well known social networking site and realized the days of small, standalone, regional websites as coming to an end... rapidly! If local nightlife websites didn't band together and pool our content, we'd be buried within a few short years by the big guys. At that time I started approaching other viable nightlife website owners about merging or partnering and most were receptive. I began with SLCBars.com, then acquired SLCParty.com from Angela Saxby and eventually merged UTRave.org with my own site UtahRaves.com in 2007. Now the collective is stronger and much more viable. All told we've either acquired or formed strategic partnership agreements with nearly a dozen nightlife websites in the state and have assembled something I don't think can ever be duplicated; a network with rich history and broad reach that truly serves Utah's local nightlife community. Many of the websites we've acquired over the years have simply been redirected UtahNights.com, but as time passed I noticed distinct demographic patterns emerging and I wanted to make sure we served each group distinctly. That's why you see four main properties today; UtahNights.com, SLCBars.com, UtahRaves.com, and SLCParty.com. We then partner with other websites like Enevento.com, DateSaltLake.com, ParkCityVoyeur.com and others, to provide content that isn't core to our focus.

Gavin: Does it ever feel hectic running so many different sites dedicated to the nightlife, or does it feel more of a necessity now?

Daryl: It can be crazy at times, but I really do feel it's a necessity now. Most of the websites I host would have died away if someone hadn't stepped in to preserve them. UtahRaves.com has been going in one form or another since 1998. UtahNights.com and SLCParty.com have photos in their libraries going back to the 2002 winter Olympics. Over the years we've helped rescue club websites and photo archives from places like SkyBar, Splash, Vortex, Axis, Naked, Suede, Shaggy's Living Room, W Lounge, Papiyons, Banana Joes, and Cheers To You. I believe it's an important part of the history of our community and that these memories are worth saving.

Gavin: How does it feel having all those sites now being an epicenter of the scene?

Daryl: I'm not arrogant enough to think we're an epicenter of the scene, but it is nice to know so many people rely on us to help them find cool places to have fun. Of course I spend so much time looking at the reports that I sometimes lose touch with how valuable these sites can be. I read "1,000 people just dropped by to see what's up tonight," and it goes right over my head. One interesting reminder came last year when I implemented a new bar listing database for SLCBars.com. As a test I added a bar called Banshce's (my alter ego when I was a wedding DJ) and listing my cell phone number because I wasn't creative enough to make one up. For three months I got these random calls on Friday night from people asking about 80's music! When I finally figured out what was going on I felt stupid, but I was also impressed that real people were using my websites to help them decide where to go. It sort of plugged me back in. I don't think we're an epicenter yet, but I look forward to the day we are. I'll consider PartyUtah.com to have finally ‘made it' when I can call every bar in town for lineup information without being hung up on or told ‘we don't like the Internet and we don't want to be listed there.' Comments like that make a web marketing analyst like me want to scream!

Gavin: You're going on eight years now, what's your thoughts on the websites lasting this long?

Daryl: I get that question allot. It's true we've been at this a long time and I've watched dozens of competitors come and go in that time. A few new ones seem to pop up every year and usually don't last more than a few months. I think the reasons we've survived so long while others have faded away are pretty simple:

* Most people who try to do what we do get into it with the hope that there's money to be made somewhere down the road, and bail out when they realize there isn't.
* We stay focused on what we know.
* We also repel the sort of people who can't talk unless they're slinging bulls#!% because we call it when we see it.
* People are more willing to support your ideas when they remember you were there supporting them when they needed a hand.

Gavin:
Going a little city-wide, what are your thoughts on the local club scene, both good and bad?

Daryl: One of the things I love about Salt Lake City nightlife is the people. When I go back east or down to L.A., I'm always struck by how unfriendly and snobby everybody is. I don't think locals see this because we're all used to it, but with rare exception people in Utah nightlife are generally friendly, warm, and easy to talk to. Even women who think you're trying to pick them up will be relatively friendly until they know for sure. It's an easy place to meet people, and it's such a small scene that you're sure to bump into folks again once you've become acquainted. Spend a month in L.A. and see how long it takes before you to have friends in every club you visit. Warning: don't hold your breath. On the down side, and here I think I'm about to show my age, clubs in Utah tend to be a little younger and crazier than in other cities I've visited. There's no happy-hour crowd (admittedly by legal decree) and folks my age tend to spend more time at home than in other cities. It leads to a feeling among those of us who do go out that we're "...the old man at the club," to quote Chris Rock. Back in Herndon, Va., Thursday night at Champ's was a weekly ritual and everyone would come out to mingle and network. In L.A., it was Thursday night at Victoria's for the Silicon Beach digital elite. Here in Utah you're out of luck, unless you want to chase all the college kids to Green Street. We need more watering holes with valet parking and handrails in the bathrooms for us old farts.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Daryl: Yeah, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control could take a chill-pill! I realize the DABC has a job to do, but some of the stories I hear from clubs around the state about their abusive enforcement tactics (bordering on ‘Gestapo') really gives me pause. It's funny that the agency puts so much energy into punishing bar owners who sincerely make an effort to stay within the law, yet when somebody like me calls offering to help promote community initiatives to combat drunk driving, I get the brush-off. It seems like misplaced priorities if you ask me. I think the DABC should engage bar owners as a partner that is sincerely interested in helping them educate their staffs and succeed in compliance, rather than a heavy-handed enforcer racking up hit-points with ‘gotchas.'

Gavin: In your opinion, right now, what are some of the top spots in the city?

Daryl: It depends on your scene really. One of the things I like about nightlife in greater Salt Lake City is the variety. Area 51, The Hotel, Bliss, Habits, Green Street, SkyBar, Speakeasy...it all depends on what you're into and what night of the week you like to party! That's why I started my website; you need a guide to keep track of it all. For our tastes, my wife and I think the hottest ticket in town is Steve Lyman playing classical guitar at the Bayou on Sunday Nights at 7pm. Seeing a mesmerizing classical guitar concert, front row with good food and an exotic beer? Even after we slip a twenty in Steve's jar for the show, it's still the best bargain in town. We go every chance we get!

Gavin: It seems in recent years the DJ and big club sound is making a comeback. Do you think it will stick around longer, or be a fading trend like before?

Daryl: Dude, you are so asking the wrong guy! You're better off asking me if I think Guitar Hero will continue to raise awareness of 80's Metal or if Steve Perry will ever do a reunion tour with Journey. Most people don't know this about me but I'm not a big fan of House music, I can't stand Hip-Hop, I haven't listened to the radio since Bush Sr. was elected President, and I haven't watched broadcast television since MTV played music videos! You may think I'm ‘connected' because of my websites, but the truth is I'm pretty damned unplugged. That's part of the reason I moved to Utah, and it's the whole reason I live on a hillside on the edge of a national forest and at the mouth of a canyon. Think of me as a younger version of Yoda; out in the middle of nowhere, connected to the civilized universe only by the Force (and my wireless internet connection).

Gavin: What's your take on the recent liquor law changes and how they'll impact the scene?

Daryl: Dude, you don't even know! I love John Huntsman! If that man runs for President in 2012, he's got my vote. If he doesn't run, I might even write him in (just kidding). Changing the private club laws here in Utah was the smartest move I think this state legislature has ever made. Last year during Sundance I escorted a Washington Post reporter through the city for a front page article on Salt Lake City's nightlife. Imagine how stupid I felt having to explain away all these ridiculous laws while trying to convince her that Salt Lake ‘really is a fun place to party' in spite of them all. I used to have a quote at the base of my homepage that read: "All clubs on this website are, according to stupid laws dictated by puppets of the LDS Church who pretend to work in the state capital, ‘Private Clubs for members.'" You have no idea how good it felt to finally be able to replace that caveat with something more positive. It's like somebody lifted a veil of insanity and made this one state again. At the very least it sends a strong message to those of us who are not members of the church that we are welcome here. It'll take several years for the stigma built up over all those years to melt away, but when it finally does I think state lawmakers will be embarrassed that it took them so long to start acting like Republicans instead of heavy-handed, big-government, legislative hacks.

Gavin: What can we expect from you and the websites over the rest of the year?

Daryl: We'll obviously be taking allot more pictures at more venues, but expect to see more varied content as well. I don't believe we're doing enough to cover some of the more popular niches and I want to change that. Expect to see us covering more GLBT, Country, All Ages, Rock/Metal, and Latin events this year. That's my goal.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Daryl: Most people don't realize PartyUtah.com is a user-driven website. Anybody can submit photos to our gallery, and in many cases we'll feature them on our homepage. You can even import galleries from Flickr. Club owners can update their information on SLCBars.com in real-time rather than waiting for us to call every few months with a survey. Anybody can post on UtahRaves.com or start their own online community at SLCParty.com, complete with its own blog and message board. Every once in a while I still meet people who are convinced you have to be a DJ or a promoter to participate in our online communities... not so. PartyUtah.com is a website of the people, by the people, for the people. Everyone is welcome to submit content and participate in the makeup of the site. Come share your ideas and your creativity. We'd love to see you!

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