How far over the top can something go before it overflows and spills back down to the bottom? I found out a couple weeks ago when the River West club Reserve suffered an identity crisis, turning into “Captain Morgan’s Tattoo Lounge” to launch the rum company’s new dark variety, called Tattoo. “Chicago’s most influential social tastemakers, VIPs and select guests” would be in attendance, crowed the invite, “only those wearing specially delivered leather cuffs will be granted access.” Dennis Rodman, spokesperson for the booze, was slated to make a grand entrance on a Harley, then head inside for a Q and A session.

The VIP component was noticeably lacking in V and I. I didn’t see Rodman–on a motorcycle or otherwise–as my view was constantly blocked by a throng of orange-tanned women, none of whom looked much like a tastemaker. I did see a woman run into the middle of Lake Street, though, and lie down in a heap. Her friend dragged her to the curb, sat her ass down, and lectured her. “Your baby’s inside! Get your shit together!” The woman responded by screaming for a cigarette.

At the bar I did shots of Tattoo, which tasted like Jagermeister, off an ice sculpture of a motorcycle and ate a box of White Castle fries from a tray proffered by a man in a tux. On the dance floor, Jade Dragon’s George Pappas was tattooing a dragon on a man’s back while young ladies danced around in thongs, their tits painted silver. Woo hoo.

Last week, desperate for something that didn’t involve corporate sponsorship or a velvet rope, I decided to try the Midnight Yoga class at Lincoln Square’s Bloom Yoga Studio.

What kind of social reject spends Friday night doing yoga? The kind who craves an “alternative to the smokey bar scene,” says the studio’s Web site, in the form of an “invigorating candlelight yoga class accompanied by great live music.” Midnight is actually when the class ends. I showed up a little after 10 PM braced for interaction with hippies sitting around in a drum circle. I imagined some of them would have thick dreadlocks and wear clothing made from hemp. As it turned out, except for the two dudes in attendance, I’m pretty sure I was the only one with pit hair.

I’ve taken about four yoga classes in my life–at home I make up my own moves (er, poses)–so I was nervous when I got there. Would it be complicated and hard? Would everyone have their own fancy mat? Would I be singled out for not knowing the poses, as has happened in the past? Should I have painted my toenails?

Bloom’s an airy, open space half a block down from the Brown Line Rockwell stop. There’s no pretension, except for the guy showing off his headstand before class. The lobby’s filled with overstuffed easy chairs, and the dim lighting and clusters of ivory candles in the high-ceilinged classroom make it look a little like a Sybaris commercial. Acoustic guitarist Daniel Chookaszian of the Christian rock band Abel’s Offering played the same three innocuous chords over and over again, but somehow it was all very soothing, not the least bit annoying.

About 30 people showed up, mostly ponytailed women more experienced than me. The first downward-facing dog had me panting, wondering what the hell I’d gotten into. Then the teacher, Kerry Maiorca–who owns the place with her husband, Zach–told us to forget about what we’d already done that day and stop thinking about what was coming tomorrow, so I stopped figuring out what I’d write about the experience and let myself bliss out. The class was simple, with lots of warrior poses and an emphasis on softness. It was all so sweet and friendly that afterward I felt like I’d been at a slumber party where we all went to bed in our My Little Pony sleeping bags, with no arguments with mom at lights-out.

Out the door and ten steps down the street I heard strains of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” coming from a building whose door was ajar. Who could resist that siren call, even in the throes of yogic serenity?

The room was all wood paneled, like your grandparents’ basement. A little plaque hanging in the center behind the bar said TIME OUT, the name of the joint, in primary colors. Right after Kirk Hammett’s last guitar squeal faded into the night, OMC’s “How Bizarre” started up on the jukebox and all these jocky dudes started cracking up and wiggling around to the beat. By the time the chorus started, about ten of ’em had crowded together, singing at the top of their lungs. Next came the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There,” then Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” all accompanied by more of the same tomfoolery.

The whole scene was like the physical manifestation of a brand-new radio station I’ve been hating to love. Last Friday, Oldies 104.3 turned into Jack FM, one of 16 stations of its kind in the country, all owned by Infinity Broadcasting. A sample playlist reads like an iPod on shuffle: there’s Honey Cone, Phil Collins, the Mighty Lemon Drops, Green Day, Robert Palmer, City Boy, and Depeche Mode. In that order. No current hits, no DJs (but plenty of commercials).

This lowest-common-denominator pastiche is described as “the ANTI-format” on Jack’s Web site. “People are just plain sick of Radio,” it says. “They’ve been screwed blue by elitist know-it-alls who’ve attempted to quantify what must be qualified. It’s become a big, homogenized bowl of crap.” Jack’s motto is “Playing what we want.”

What they want isn’t that different from what you’d hear if you set your radio dial on scan. There’s nothing risky, nothing underground, nothing you haven’t heard before. Which is kinda the beauty of it: you don’t have to listen through umpteen new songs to get to the awful horseshit from your past that you yearn for. Jack is calling you on your supposedly evolved taste, saying, “Come on, baby, put down that Coughs CD. You know what you really want is Bob Seger and David Lee Roth.” The real bummer is that they’re right.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.