Outside the Palms Danceland, rows of suburban station wagons and mud-splattered pickup trucks were lined up in used-car-lot formation. Inside the square brick building, amidst the clacking of cue balls and the live music, it was like New Year's Eve. Hundreds of middle-aged women and men, dressed from Levi's to Neiman-Marcus, were dancing and drinking, shoulder to shoulder, in the windowless nighttime of a daytime bar. It was 11a.m. on a Thursday.
"Hell, I got tired of sitting around the house and watching the '$20,000 Pyramid' and drinking cups of Maxwell House." said 43-year-old Ruthie Walker, housewife and mother of three. "If that's what some men think we've supposed to be doing, then they can shove it. I'm making every minute count."
So are several hundred other men and women, ranging from salesman to night-shife workers to bored wives of prominent businesmen. "Not too long ago we had the wife of a leading banker in here," said Palms Danceland bartender Carlene Taylor. "She found a dance real quick." The diurnal partygoers visit this Texas bar from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and owner Don Taylor said closing in the afternoon is not easy. "I've to herd 'em out of here."
The walk from the sunny light of the parking lot to the midnight darkness of the Palms had the effect of a flashcube going off in you face. The pupils exploded. "We made it that way," said Taylor, "so everyone can see who's coming in and whether he or she should hang around. You can't see a damn thing when you come in that door."
And for 10 minutes after. Then the scene began to settle. The Palms was decorated in darkness. The bricks were painted black and sprinkled with gold glitter. A red-and-black-check rug was barely visible from the light of two low-hanging pool table lamps. Huddled around the dance floor, black Formica-topped tables held half-empty bottles of whisky and beer and cigarette-loaded ashtrays. As partners clasped one another on the floor, the four-piece cowboy band pumped out slow, heart-tearing country and western ballards about broken marriages, lovesick hearts and fallen angels.
When a beer delivery man opened the kitchen door and a shaft of laserlike light shot through the club like a police beam, faces abd tempers ignited. "SHUT THE DAMN DOOR!"
Dallas is not the only city with a popular and profitable daytime bar business, a Texas tradition which dates back some 25 years. A club in Minneapolis has almost doubled its income since it went daytime only. A Los Angeles business reports better business during the day than eveing. And and establishment in Houston, called the Cedar Lounge, was so crowded that the doors were almost closed at 2 p.m.
"Basically, people are bored and want a little excitment in their daytime lives," said Polly Barnett, who has been on door duty at the Palms Danceland for 10 years. "I see some of the saddest faces coming and some of the happiest leaving."
Club owner Taylor estimated that about "90 percent are married and not to each other." It's not a coincidence that a nearby motel offers "special afternoon rates" or that a local nursery wants mom "to swing while they swing" by offering a special discount to Palms customers. Even the exit doors at the Danceland are "strategically placed," should the everyday housewife run into her traveling salesman husband.
"We've had only one case where a man found his wife here," said Taylor, a paunchy cowboy with a Junior Samples-like face. "They were both pretty embarassed."
In Texas, these daytime bars are called "pressure cookers" or "microwave clubs." Because housewives are in a hurry to finish the last dance to put dinnre on the table for their husbands, they often resort to the expeditions pressure cooker or microwave oven. "The pressure cooker bar is an old Texas tradition," said Judy Johnson, who runs another popular daytime bar in Longview, the Rio Palm Isle. "The whole idea is that her husband is never the wiser and the wife is fovever young."
At least one fed-up housewife who frequents these microwave clubs said she had found even a better way to keep her daytime secret. When her husband goes fishing on Sunday afternoon, she prepares every dinner for the coming week and puts them in the deep freeze. "When I get home all I have to do is stick it in the oven, no more preparation or anything." It ususally means time enough for an extra dance, she said.
A proportional number of men are there on almost any weekday. One microwave club used to be called "the T.I. club" because of the large number of patrons from the Texas Instruments plant. The Palms Danceland reported that bankers from Boston and Atlanta were regular customers when in Texas for business. Insurance salesman on their own time and businessmen who have to call into the office make up the majority of male customers. "It's the only place where I can come where my office can't find me," said Larry Purser, a career accountant. "I think it's the greatest thing since cold beer."
"I don't find too many lawyers or doctors in here," said Betty Knight, a regular customer who works in an electrical plan. "At least they don't say it if they are."
Club owners denied that their customers were cheating on their spouses and that their bars were grounds for divorce. "A lot of these women are here purely for entertainment and nothing more," Taylor said. "And they wouldn't be coming in here if they weren't bored in the first place. I bet for every marriage I break up, I save 10. I know my own marriage was shot before I met my new wife here."
The Palms' most popular day is Thursday, when 500 to 600 people cram into the country-and-western-bar. All notion of time of lost in the darkness and it's not easy to find a waitress wearing a watch.
The scene at the pressure cookers is reminiscent of sixth-grade dance. Men approach for a dance: "May I have the pleaure of this number?" asked Lou Forranza, an industrial salesman for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. The pudgy housewife, dressed in a blue pantsuit and polkadot scarf, accepted and they two-stepped to a slow walts. Another housewife named Belly, a blond, blue-eyed woman from Mesquite, sat at a table. She was here unbeknownst to her husband who, she said, wouldn't care if he knew anyhow.
"Ever since the children left home we just haven't had much in common," she said as the band played "Rose Colored Glasses" in the background. He likes to hunt and I like to shop. He likes to stay at home and I like to meet people. We just haven't got much left. But I figure there's still a chance to meet someone so I keep coming out here."
Kathy Logan, another housewife, said her husband knew she was partying during the day. "I told him I was tired of sitting around so he suggested I come out here," said Logan. "He said if it makes me feel better, then get on it. He's a real understanding type guy, though."
Some of the men claimed they were at the Danceland purely out of boredom and were not looking. "The first time I came in here I saw my neighbor's wife and my insurance agent together," said a local real-estate broker. "I thought if it were that easy for me to see that going on, then it would be just as easy for others to spot me."
One couple, who refused to give their names, said they had been meeting secretly at the Palms for three years. He is a Dallas businessman and she is a Ft. Worth housewife. "We really don't think it's anybody's business except ours," he said. "This is one of the few places where people don't ask your more than your name. There are a lot of people here with bad marriages. It's easy to find consolation over a few beers."
Onwer Taylor apparently believed there are enough bored peopled and bad marriages in the country to go nationwide. "I've been approached by a lot of people from all over the country," said Taylor. "I think it's an idea whose time is come. It sure beats the hell out of an officer or a kitchen." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Illustration by Jan Drews for The Washington Post