Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin, a questionable privilege in this day and age.
But one thing you can do — and in no less than in Salt Lake City — is dance in a log cabin.
For more than 20 years, Totem’s Club & Café has looked out of place on a busy stretch of Redwood Road in west Salt Lake City, with its facade straight out of glossy magazine pics advertising hunting lodges in Alaska and Montana.
It has become a comfortable and inviting place to grab comfort food and as a gathering place for local clubs and association, but now the complex, under new management, is hoping to become of the hottest nightspots for Utahs looking for a unique night.
"Totem’s got a reputation as more of an event center or banquet space, but we’re trying to refocus on nightlife," said Natalee Thompson, entertainment director.
That doesn’t mean that the multi-purpose restaurant will turn away its local clientele who use the space for company banquets or night outs for great Mexican food. It’s just that with 19,500 square feet of space, owners Alex and Diane Gilbert figured that they could do more.
And what they have near the rear of the establishment is a large dance floor, plentiful cabaret-style seating, a new soundsystem and no fewer than six bars to entice both young and old to come out and dance. Attached to a café that stays open until 10:30 p.m. every night, along with a planned steakhouse, the Gilberts want to make their spacious space a one-stop destination for food and fun.
The change in direction comes from the unfortunate passing of Dean Gilbert, who ran Totem’s until he passed away earlier this year. His health had been declining in recent years, with attention to the nightclub suffering as a result, Thompson said. With a bad economy that has hit Totem’s as well as other nightclubs in the area, the owners had a quandary.
"The question was, do we close our doors, or do we try to make it work and raise it from the ashes?" said Alex Gilbert.
But Totem’s has a special place in the owners’ hearts.
"It’s a breathing entity," Diane said.
It opened its hewn oak doors in 1989, and was made with 23,250 linear feet of Lodgepole pine logs shipped from Montana. Inside the building is also nearly 19 tons of steel plate trusses held together with 7,000 bolts. Inside such a huge place, 650 people can be accommodated.
So, despite 16 years of retirement, Alex and Diane brought in their family, including daughter Natalee Thompson and sons Jonny and Greg Gilbert, to make a push to revive the club and cafe.
"He went from retirement to a seven-day work week," Thompson said of her father.
Halloween weekend held the largest parties the space has hosted in years, and with new life, clubgoers are discovering that you don’t have to head east for nightlife. There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west.
Totem’s Club & Cafe
538 S. Redwood Road (1700 West), Salt Lake City
Hours • Café open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday, 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Club open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday closed
Dish of the Week • Smothered Chile Verde Burrito • $8.99 • WhileTotem’s Club & Café has six bars, be sure to bring your appetite if you arrive before the kitchen closes at around 10:30 p.m. With tender pork simmered in green verde sauce wrapped in a fresh tortilla made on the premises, the burrito is full of the hands-down best chile verde I have ever tasted — and I’ve tasted plenty. Smothered with cheese and onions, this meal will spice up your evening more than the Macarena ever could.
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