Monstercade celebrates one year of weird
One year ago on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the weirdest places in Winston-Salem opened and nothing has been the same ever since. The paint was still drying on the walls; the arcade games weren’t even working. Yet, people still poured in to watch a band from Maryland called Curse and a local dream pop band that was (at the time) called True Believer play at the newest little bar on the corner of West Acadia Avenue and South Broad Street.
Carlos Bocanegra, the owner of Monstercade, felt empowered by the Winston-Salem art scene to pursue his dream of Monstercade. The “art scene” he referred to was the artist collectives that used to thrive on Patterson Avenue called the Wherehouse and PS 211.
“That opened doors for a lot of us, and I said, ‘hey, these guys are doing it,’”
Bocanegra said. “And you grow up with that and all of the sudden they become a catalyst for all of your creativity, your thoughts and all the things you wanted to do because you see it being done and being done well. I know they inspired a lot of us who have been around town for a long time.”
Bocanegra said he also was extremely inspired by Reanimator Records and The Black Lodge because “those places were doing whatever they wanted to.” Now, after one year, Bocanegra said Monstercade has turned into so much more than just a neighborhood bar.
“I know we are basically a satellite for art now since Winston-Salem downtown has changed dramatically in the past 10 years,” he said. “Again, we are just a small bar. I know a lot of people think we’re a venue or dance club or even an arcade, and I don’t think we are any of those things. We are all of those things, yet we are none of those things.”
Bocanegra teamed up with his “right-hand woman,” Brit McDonough, to design the interior of Monstercade. He said the bar was designed to be like your high school best friend’s basement.
“Remember that? Everybody had that friend,” he said. “And you hung out all day and all night and never wanted to leave because there was always something to do.”
For Bocanegra, that was his basement in high school. He adds his kitschy flare to the bar’s aesthetic as well. For instance, the mannequins with T.V.s attached to their heads behind the bar play trailers of old, campy horror films.
“Everything here is kitsch and campy just like those old 1952 drive-in films that we all kind of laugh at, but there is something comforting about that,” he said.
The mascot of Monstercade, (which is perched up at the top of the bar outside and also plays those types of movie trailers in her helmet at night) was modeled after the 1953 movie Robot Monster.
Bocanegra recently told me the origin story of Monstercade’s mascot, that has since been dubbed Princess Zarlos (soon, there will be an official Monstercade toy released that is made in her likeness).
“She’s been banished from her homeworld, and she has made a cavernous lair in the mountainous regions of Monstercade to strike fear in the hearts of anyone that dare enter,” Bocanegra proclaimed. “There, she awaits her warlords, and they plan to conquer Earth, and only after she conquers Earth she can return home to be worthy of her throne.”
Bocanegra said most of the events that are held at Monstercade are either free (of course, after signing up to become a member) or are for charity, benefiting anything from Winston-Salem Pride to Greyhound Friends. “Anything that we can possibly do to help out in the community, that is what we are all about.”
Occasionally at Monstercade there are shows, occasionally there are dance parties, and occasionally there are events that happen, but you can’t really describe what the hell is actually going on.
“This bar is almost like the living embodiment of the movie UHF, where Weird Al owns a television station, and he puts whatever he wants on air,” Bocanegra said. “That is what we are trying to do here.”
For instance, on March 7 the Mayoress of Monstercadia, Tristan Kelly led the resident gimp Matt Flowers (masked and shirtless) up on the stage to measure Jon Michael Hartwig’s (aka Fuxataunee Fill) nipples to predict how many more weeks of winter there would be. Kelly’s data concluded that there would be two more weeks of winter.
“We have all of these amenities for people, but first and foremost we are just a bar for people that don’t feel comfortable in other bars,” Bocanegra said. “It is just a bar for weirdos and a bar for people that actually want to have creative conversations or be around creative people. A place that is not homogenized. We literally do whatever comes into our mind.”
Other events that Monstercade has hosted in the past year have included an email deletion party, a live talk show called “Ians’ Hour of Nonsense,” a gentlemen auction, air guitar contest and of course, their unforgettable New Year’s Eve celebration. Why was it unforgettable? Well, while most bars and patrons were staring at the T.V. anxiously awaiting the ball to drop, Monstercade dropped some balls of its own; on top of a cardboard cut-out of President Donald Trump’s head.
“We make no qualms about it,” he said. “If you’re a Trump supporter, we want you to feel as welcome as possible, but you’re probably going to hear some conversation that is ranting and raving against our president. Trump would hate and stand against everything this place stands for.”
He added that when Trump is out of office, there will be a huge party at Monstercade.
“He is a terrible, terrible, terrible man and as a business owner, I am not supposed to say those kinds of things,” he said. “Monstercade is definitely not about playing it safe anyways, that is for every other bar trying to squeeze every bit of cash out of the local population. We just don’t care. We have nothing to do and want nothing to do with his policies.”
But Bocanegra said Trump isn’t the only one getting picked on. Monstercade has poked fun at Hillary too, especially with the email deletion party that was hosted earlier this year.
Bocanegra said what separates Monstercade from other businesses is that there is no algorithm that “makes people like” Monstercade. It truly is what it is. Since Reanimator Records and The Black Lodge are no longer in business, Bocanegra said he wants Monstercade to become the new catalyst for creativity.
“We know what we are, and we are confident about what we are,” he said. “And what we are is actuarial in the fact that like, again, it is a playhouse. It is a playhouse for everyone’s creativity. If anybody came to me and said, ‘I have always wanted to do this,’ (and if the idea is something I liked), then guess what, you are now apart of the Monstercade family and I will help you get it off the ground.”
He said although he may be the figurehead for the bar, he listens to everybody’s opinion about things. One of those people is his other right-hand woman, Laurie Ruroden, Monstercade’s general manager and booking agent. Ruroden has been with Bocanegra since the very beginning. “[Laurie] has a keen sense of what sells to the mainstream public,” he said. “One of the reasons I get along with her so well is that she tells me no a lot. I need somebody to reign me in sometimes.”
Ruroden wrote in an email that her job consists of staffing and organizing the bar, as well as keeping up with inventory and “the creation of boozy delights.”
She also books all the music events on a weekly basis and keeps the community informed of what is happening at the bar.
“I receive help from my generous husband Eric, who designs flyers for a handful of the events, including his own monthly party called AMNESIA, where he DJs as Mauve Angeles,” she wrote.
She wrote that her favorite part of the job is hosting and booking the music events and getting shout-outs from bands that play at Monstercade.
“It’s something I care very deeply about, and it’s nice to be a beacon for the smaller touring bands who need some love,” she wrote.
Ruroden wrote that Monstercade is a “cool place for people to just hang out and escape from the everyday humdrum.”
“On many occasions, you’ll be able to discover new and amusing things sonically, visually or through conversation,” she wrote on her favorite thing about the bar. “There is never a shortage of intriguing people that come through Monstercade!”
Bocanegra stresses that one of the most important tenets of Monstercade is inclusion and Ruroden stated that a core value of Monstercade is to respect one another. Bocanegra said someone who once reviewed Monstercade called the bar “the island of misfit toys.”
He said that another patron wrote a review that said, “I feel comfortable going in there with a pink tutu or a bear costume, and they wouldn’t bat a lash.”
“We have been lucky enough to not have any bad reviews yet,” Bocanegra said. “It is coming at some point, somebody is going to come in here and unfortunately not feel comfortable, or maybe they will just come on a bad night. Once we get a one-star, we are going to have a massive party. It will be our first one-star review party, and we would invite [the reviewer] as a guest of honor.”
Monstercade is not a business that just looks at its bottom line, Bocanegra said. Of course, it has to keep the lights on and the business afloat, but he said getting people to drink and making money is not the sole goal of his business.
“Here at Monstercade, we just want to give you a completely different experience. Something that you walk away from and say, ‘That was insane,’ and to talk about it the next day and talk to your friends about it, and say, ‘I walked into this bar and they had an air guitar competition, and everyone was going insane. It was the craziest idea; you should have been there,’” he said. “We love the fact that people will say, ‘you should have been there,’ that is cool. Not only that, as a business, we really want to be a catalyst and continue the tradition that Krankies, Reanimator Records, and The Black Lodge has created.”
If you take a look inside Monstercade, the art on its walls are indicative of just that. Artists that love Monstercade will bring their art as an offering.
“We have a waiting list of people that just want to give us things or to make things for us,” he said. “Everything is made by other people here. That is an amazing feeling to have people who are so connected to just a place that has only been open for [one year]. Something is going right here when people want to just be apart of it; people want to have their DNA on the walls or be apart of something they feel attached to, akin to.”
Bocanegra said that is all he wanted with Monstercade, to have like-minded individuals that wanted to create something with him. And he said he has been so lucky to find these people.
“Monstercade is a runaway train, and I’ve got my fingers holding on for dear life as it is just going 100 miles per hour,” he said. “And it is so much fun. Every day is something different, every day somebody comes up with something or wants to donate something or has an idea or wants us to be involved with something else that is bigger and it is just amazing. This place was just a bar for liquor, but it is not anymore, it means more to other people.”
Ruroden wrote that she hopes to see “increased and continued enthusiasm” for local events and social gatherings. “Only Monstercade knows where Monstercade is going.”
Bocanegra said he knows that the area that Monstercade is in now will change in 10 years and he hopes Monstercade will be there with it.
“We expect to be here,” he said. “I make no mistake about what we are and where our future probably lies within this part of the city.”
Being inspired by Reanimator Records, Krankies, The Black Lodge, and the artist collectives, Bocanegra is curious who will be inspired by Monstercade.
“I am curious to see five years down the road, who is influenced by this place and what they come up with,” he said. “I want so many other clubs or bars or creative spaces to go to Winston.”
In the end, Bocanegra is inspired by Monstercade and its patrons.
“Seeing a monster on my ceiling, seeing all these things inspire me,” he said. “It is really cool; I get to be inspired by other people every day being here, and it is just because we have an open-door policy to other people’s ideas and creativity. I am excited for the next five years to see what Monstercade brings. We are the open door for other people to go out into the world and do something even crazier.”
To celebrate its first birthday, Monstercade will be hosting a free party on St. Patrick’s Day featuring DJ Petey from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nite Moves will close out the night with a dance party from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
*Editor’s note: In the interest of being transparent to readers, after visiting Monstercade several times and writing two different articles about it, I have fallen in love with this place. It has become one of my favorite spots in the Triad.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.