After owning Downtown Boise bars for 27 years, Ted Challenger still finds it strange how a dance club can stir so much passion in people. “They either love it,” he says, “or they really hate it.”
Either way, dance clubs provide an escape during these divided times, he adds. “Where people always come together is their love of dance music and socializing. It knows no borders.”
Those concepts — “strange” and “love” — inspired Challenger to create StrangeLove. The two-story, 14,000-square-foot bar will hold its grand opening Saturday at 100 S. 6th St.
StrangeLove is an upscale dance club — a higher-end reboot of the building’s former inhabitant, China Blue, which had degenerated over 15 years. Ultimately, Challenger says, it had become a weekend destination for potential trouble.
“I don’t want to own another violent dance club,” he says.
The customer flow inside StrangeLove will be much the same, but that’s where the similarities end. There won’t be a VIP area separating the entitled from the masses. Mainstream dance music — “(stuff) you can shake your ass to,” Challenger says — will replace edgier choices. “We’re not gonna be playing violent rap/hip-hop just to get the numbers in the door.”
EDM will pump in a smaller dance area upstairs.
Service will be paramount. At Saturday’s grand opening, StrangeLove will employ about 15 bartenders, 14 bottle-service waitresses, two floor waitresses, six bar-backs and 14 security employees. The paint, furnishings, lighting and sound system are new. So is the artwork, including a two-story glass feature.
Do you want to be near the action, but not right on top of the dance floor? Grab a bottle-service booth with friends. Order an entire bottle of, say, Tito’s vodka. Cocktails will be prepared and served in front of you. The bottle is kept in a locked cage on your table. “The customer is never allowed to touch the bottle,” Challenger says.
Wooing slightly older, well-heeled patrons, bottle service will not be cheap. StrangeLove isn’t attempting to steal customers from the Cactus dive bar next door.
But StrangeLove’s “quality experience,” Challenger says, is something Boiseans won’t find elsewhere Downtown.
“Boise has boomed in the last three years,” he says, “and I think Boise can finally support an upscale dance club.”
When China Blue opened in 2003, the atmosphere it ushered into Downtown felt chic at the time. (Saltwater fish tanks? Italian sofas? Champagne in the women’s restroom? Sixteen 26-inch TVs throughout the club?) But the bar’s culture changed during a decade and a half. By the time China Blue had to be closed for roof repairs in September 2018, the concept had run its course, Challenger says.
“I just let China get run down,” he admits. “I wasn’t there. I didn’t like being there.”
Challenger was focused on two other bars: His successful Amsterdam Lounge, 609 W. Main St. — one of the biggest liquor purchasers in the state — and The Tailgate, 815 W. Ann Morrison Park Drive, which he wound up closing.
“I build places where I’d want to be now,” Challenger says. “When the roof collapsed, I just was like, ‘I cannot build China Blue again. I want to kill the name.’ ”
Reinventing a bar is not a new conquest for Challenger. He sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars transforming what used to be Sixth & Main at Joe’s, a failed dance club, into China Blue. And in 2015, he remade his long-running Main Street Bistro as the fancier Amsterdam Lounge.
Challenger got his start at the Bistro as a doorman-janitor before buying it for $45,000 in 1992. At 23 years old, he immediately converted the fine-dining spot into a popular college bar.
Changing the Bistro into Amsterdam makes him confident in China Blue being reborn as the upgraded StrangeLove, he says.
“I never try to predict, but I feel more comfortable after I did Amsterdam that I know what I’m doing,” Challenger says.
“When I first did China Blue, I obviously did not know what I was doing,” he adds with a laugh. “ I feel like I have a good feel for the Boise market, and what they want as far as value and entertainment.
“It’s some of my best work. I finally got to do it all.”
▪ StrangeLove will charge a $20 cover during its grand opening at 9 p.m. Saturday. Subsequent weekends will feature no cover on Fridays, and a progressive cover starting at $5 on Saturdays.