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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Totem’s attracts locals with its comfort food, as well as its meeting space. But the new owners have big plans. “Totem has 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.
Bar Exam: Totem’s aims to draw clubgoers to west Salt Lake City
Bar exam » The Club & Café amps up its nightlife under new management.
First Published Oct 31 2012 03:19 pm • Last Updated Mar 06 2013 11:32 pm

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 log façade straight out of magazines advertising hunting lodges in Alaska and Montana.

Totem’s attracts locals with its comfort food, as well as its meeting space, but its new owners have big plans for the future. "Totem has 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.

At a glance

Smothered Chile Verde Burrito

$8.99 » Totem’s Club & Café has six bars, but be sure to bring your appetite if you arrive before the kitchen closes about 10:30 p.m. The pork 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.

Totem’s Club & Cafe

Where » 538 S. Redwood Road, Salt Lake City; 801-975-0401

Hours » Café open Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 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 Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; closed Sunday

Info » www.facebook.com/totems538

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That doesn’t mean the multipurpose club will turn away locals who book the space for company parties or come for the 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.

At the rear of the spacious club there’s a large dance floor, plentiful cabaret-style seating, a new sound system and six bars to entice young and old to come out and dance. Plus there’s a café that stays open nightly until 10:30, with plans to add a steakhouse.

The change in direction comes from the passing of Dean Gilbert, Alex Gilbert’s brother, who ran Totem’s until he passed away earlier this year. His attention to the nightclub suffered as his health declined, Thompson said. Against the backdrop of difficult economic times, 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. As Diane Gilbert says: "It’s a breathing entity."

The club opened its hewn-oak doors in 1989, a structure made from 23,250 linear feet of lodgepole pine logs shipped from Montana. Inside the building, which can hold 650 people, are 19 tons of steel-plate trusses held together with 7,000 bolts.

So, after 16 years of retirement, Alex and Diane Gilbert 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 — or even downtown — for nightlife.

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