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Portland’s Candy Nightclub on pandemic, positivity, and people (DMNW Interview)

A crowd at Candy Nightclub in Portland dances
Credit: Taj Albeck, courtesy of Candy Nightclub

During 2020 and all of the repercussions that came with the COVID-19 global pandemic, live music venues shuttered. The future seemed even more bleak for smaller, less widely-known independent venues. But one venue took the reality in stride and shook things up for the Portland dance music scene in a big way. Candy Nightclub sat down with DMNW recently to catch us up on how things are and where they’re going.

Behind the scenes at Candy Nightclub

Tucked into a less-than-glamorous corner of downtown Portland, Candy’s appearance on the outside has all the hallmarks of an underground club. However, the interior shines with a full bar, a floor-to-ceiling projector, and sound systems large enough to warrant ear plugs.

Taj Albeck has been a huge force behind the decks and behind the scenes to push Candy Nightclub forward. When DMNW asked what he’d consider to be his official title with the club, he paused and laughed for a minute. As a sort of jack-of-all-trades, he’s become a resident DJ, promoter, and an assistant with operational management rolled into one.

He first became involved with Candy after picking up his girlfriend from her bartending shift in late 2019.

“I went up to the current owner, who’s had it for about five years, while wearing this cow print onesie,” he recounts. “I asked if I could DJ for the club: I bet I’m one of the best you’ve heard in a long time.”

Since then, he’s ended up working with the owners Brad and Tammy to grow the venue. The rest of their staff is comprised of a few managers, bartenders, bottle service staff, and bar backs.

Adapting to a COVID-19 climate

It seemed like things were going great, but of course, we all know what happened in late March 2020. When it felt like everything fell apart, Candy Nightclub actually came together in a new way, converting to a full restaurant as soon as possible, which just happened to also have live music.

Because of curfew restrictions related to COVID-19, the club had only a four-hour time frame for artists to play. If the limited time and crowd capacity seems like a challenge, bear in mind they were also required to shift all operations to their outdoor patio. But winter also loomed beyond the few pockets of pleasant Oregon weather.

“I couldn’t believe it, honestly. Everyone just kept showing up throughout the whole winter,” recalls Albeck.

Tents with lights in front of Candy Nightclub

Outside Candy Nightclub in the winter, set up for another night of music. Photo courtesy of Taj Albeck for Candy Nightclub.

Staffing was a huge challenge as well, as capacity restrictions applied to restaurants and venues constantly shifted over the past 15 months.

“It was a real struggle,” Albeck said. “I wanted to take care of the staff so I’d tip out so they received a little more for everything they were going through too.”

Employees weren’t the only people impacted by changing restrictions. Candy dedicated itself to following proper precautions, which at first did result in some push back from patrons. Their firm (but kind) security regularly asked attendee to comply with mask mandates or leave.

It’s safe to say everyone grew restless without the live music we all missed for those 15 months too. When DMNW asked Albeck what his favorite memory from working with Candy was so far, without skipping a beat he said through a huge smile, “definitely when we first started letting tables back indoors.”

“I had friends from all over that came out almost every week straight, and when we could be back inside, they were nothing but hyped. It brought back so many old memories, just being with people having a great time and dancing.”

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