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John Rzasa: Tuesdays At Tisane's

Partying With The 'Boyz' Is His Best Gig Of The Week

By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ, Courant Staff Writer

December 06, 2007

All told, and by the time things really get going, the whole affair clocks in at less than two hours. But in that wee sliver of time, John Rzasa and his Tuesday-night following pack in a lot.

"It's really short. But that hour and a half makes my week," says Rzasa, 28. "Because, really, I'm not trying to do anything here. Like, I have no agenda. ... I just want people to come here with a big smile on their face, go get their drinks and get out on the dance floor."

Rzasa may not have aimed for much more than that when he took over the DJ reins at the popular weekly event known — affectionately and unofficially — as "Boyz Night." But in less than a year, he's reinvigorated a dance happening that falls on an unlikely night of the week, in the unlikely venue that is a Farmington Avenue tea and coffee house.

Perhaps its success is precisely owed to that lack of pretense and contrivance (no gussied-up dress code, no velvet ropes or attitude at the door). Because from the carpeted floor of Tisane Tea & Coffee Bar has sprung a thing that can only be described as its own unique brand of Hartford community.

Furniture pushed back, music thumping, cocktails raised in the air — call it the West End's very own house party. And presiding over it all is a smiling Rzasa, headphones crooked between shoulder and ear, body moving reflexively to the beat.

Right about now is a good time to clarify: You neither have to be a boy, nor gay, to party on Boyz Night.

"Half the people who come out aren't gay. They just like to hang out with the gays," says Rzasa, whose crisp white shirt and khakis hint at his day job as a substitute elementary school teacher, his gelled, mini-mohawk a nod to his nightside gigs.

You'll find Rzasa as the DJ most nights of the week at clubs across the state, including the Polo Club and the Chez Est, Hartford's two main (and fiercely competitive) gay clubs. But it's Tuesdays at Tisane for which he holds a soft spot, and for which, it can be argued, he's most known — a gig he initially took on for free, and just for fun.

For one thing, it's "neutral ground" for the Chez-Polo crowd. And the other thing?

"The energy here is better than anywhere else. There's a real mix of people," he says, scanning the packed room of regulars — men in sweet-smelling cologne; college kids clustered and laughing around a table; a pair of African American girls who could pass for twin sisters, one reapplying her lip gloss as the other sips a pink-colored cocktail.

"Those two girls? One of them lives down the street. They're here every week. And they're out on the dance floor all night long," says Rzasa. "To this day, I might not know some of their names, but I see them all the time.

"They're, like, my Tuesday friends."

Problem is, Tuesday-night friends in Hartford can be hard to cling to. It's a transient city, often a pit stop for young professionals. Rzasa ticks off a list of friends who've recently moved.

"It's like ... Hartford needs a shoulder to cry on," says city native Nestor Nieves, 23, taking a dance break in the cold of the parking lot. Wearing a striped, dark Yankees hat cocked fashionably to the side, he squints his dark eyes from behind trendy glasses as he searches for the words to explain. "Go to any other big city, and you know what's up right away. You know exactly what's going on and where.

"But here? You got to really dig to find what's going on."

And so they've dug, and they've found each other, here on the makeshift dance floor for a few fleeting hours.

Back inside, the clock pushes closer to 11 p.m. and the crowd has come alive. Taking requests via text message and delivering cheeky banter over the mike, Rzasa plays one guilty musical pleasure after another.

They circle-up, facing each other and lip-synching every last word, stomping and swaying and blowing off steam from a workweek that's only just begun. And between each song is that quiet space of uncertainty, that moment when one song ends, another begins and the crowd emits a sigh of recognition that seems to say, "Yes! This is my song!"

Such as when Rzasa plays Alicia Keys' new single, "No One." They sing like it's their own personal anthem, dance as if stars in their own music videos, feeling every lyric as if they wrote it themselves. For a moment in time, the music transforms this space, these people — an improbable mix of Hartford's faces serenading each other, Rzasa smiling his sunny smile from behind his DJ console.

Tonight, he has no other agenda but that.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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