We’ve all driven by the huge sign on Central, east of Louisiana, that looks like it’s from ’40s Vegas and promises “Western Dancing” and “Ladies Special Drink Prices.” I passed it countless times before I realized the sign wasn’t just a leftover landmark and there was actually a building to go with it. The country nightclub Caravan East is set back from the street, behind a field of pitted asphalt. Asking acquaintances for details on the place yielded warnings of sleazy characters, grimy ambience and prevalent violence. The general consensus was if you weren’t already a regular, you should not set foot in the place—you’d most likely get your ass kicked.
I waited too long before I put these rumors to the test. Now I regret all the fine times I might have missed. A group of wary friends and I timidly poked our heads through the doors of the Caravan not long ago. We were greeted by friendly doormen and, on this particular night, no cover charge for ladies. The place—which is huge—was crowded, and we immediately noticed all types of people, from 80-year-old couples decked out in turquoise and colorful Western wear, to college kids in polo shirts. A vast dance floor in the center of the club was full, but not intimidating. Pairs of two-steppers glided past swing dancers; some people even did the middle school side-to-side sway. The live band on this night was totally country, without the glossy pop sheen. Neither the men nor women of our party felt an inkling of aggression from anyone all night.
Several bars serving up icy-cold beers ring the dance floor, nestled among ample tables and chairs. The overall decor seems like set decorators for, say, a Wes Anderson film created it. Dark woods, '70s furniture and an orange and yellow accent lighting scheme are just some of the details. The club’s inside looks just like the sign makes you want it to.
If you’re tempted to investigate the Caravan, you can choose from a full calendar of events. There’s almost always live music happening, and it’s not always country. Tuesday is Ladies’ Night and Thursday features free dance lessons from 6 to 8 p.m. If dancing isn’t your thing, the Caravan is a great place to soak up atmosphere and do some rewarding people-watching. See caravaneast.com for clues.