What Was the Adventurers Club?
A little over thirteen years ago, Disney fans lost one of our favorite places ever. On September 27th, 2008, Disney closed this nightclub forever.
Since then, many lamented the absence of one of the most unique and original hangout spots in Disney history.
So, what was the Adventurers Club? Read on to learn about the place that started a Disney movement.
What Was Adventurers Club?
On May 1st, 1989, Pleasure Island debuted at the spot we now call Disney Springs.
This entertainment district prioritized the three Ds: drinking, dining, and dancing. Six nightclubs here offered all of them.
From day one, the best of the bunch was undeniably the Adventurers Club. This place took Disney theming to unprecedented heights.
The entire Pleasure Island complex utilized the backstory of the fictional Merriweather Adam Pleasure, a Howard Hughes type with some Robert Ripley thrown in for good measure.
Imagineers took the premise of Pleasure Island and ran with it. The idea centered on Merriweather’s love of the adventurer’s lifestyle.
The inventor and entrepreneur coveted interactions with like-minded folks, other world travelers.
A mark for his own character, Mr. Pleasure constructed a library and a personal museum to show off his collection to friends.
He’d invite fellow adventurers to his compound and take them to the museum to brag about his achievements.
Alas, Pleasure went a bit, well, insane, and started trying to contact aliens. Eventually, he and his wife got lost at sea, never to return.
Soon afterward, a hurricane wiped out the Pleasure estate, which was lost for generations. Then, archeologists uncovered the Pleasure campus.
These folks decided to restore it. The greatest achievement was bringing life back to the museum and library, which they turned into a nightclub.
That’s right. The place you’ve heard so much about was (theoretically) once a dude’s library. He’d drag friends there and then brag on himself for hours.
That doesn’t sound like a fun hangout spot, does it? Au contraire!
The Joe Rohde Effect
Imagineer Joe Rohde retired in early 2021 after a storied tenure at Disney.
Virgin Galactic promptly grabbed him to develop the future of outer space travel as a tourist experience, which speaks volumes about his abilities.
Rohde was one of the key contributors to the development of the Adventurers Club. In fact, he was also the inspiration for it.
The gadabout threw a themed party one fateful Sunday. He chose an odd theme for it, The Last Days of the Raj.
Basically, an Imagineer threw an annual party where guests dressed up as British bluebloods or Indian people counting down the days until the Yankees left the subcontinent.
This must have been some party, as it left quite the impression on several attendees. They all professed a “shared love of the world of the pith helmet.”
So, Rohde and his teammates started the process of populating an entire island full of such colorful individuals.
The Adventurers Club evolved into the place where everyone stored their artifacts and antiquities, the rare objects worthy of further investigation.
As you know, Rohde developed a philosophy as an attraction designer that every item on the “stage” should have a backstory and reason for being there.
The Adventurers Club drove home that philosophy like nothing in Disney history up until that point.
People could show up and visit a place akin to Rick’s Place from Casablanca.
Only, the items on the walls were more in line with the Smithsonian…if the Smithsonian had a sense of humor.
Some of this may sound familiar to you. Yes, Disney has borrowed parts of this idea for the decidedly less popular Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom.
People clearly prefer the original to the imitator for whatever reason.
The Other Part of the Show
Imagineers drew inspiration from one other unlikely source as they developed Adventurers Club.
Here’s a video from Tamara, probably the weirdest postmodern play of the 1980s:
(Film buff note: Yes, that’s the same actress who played Mercy in The Warriors!)
In fact, calling Tamara a play feels incorrect. It was more of an improv show that varied wildly each night.
Tamara used a baseline story about an interaction between two famous people from history.
Then, the story veered off into several rooms, each of which included a single character telling their part.
Importantly, Tamara told ten different stories in front of 150 members of the studio audience, all of whom could enter or leave a room whenever they wanted.
At the Adventurers Club, several storytellers did something similar. They took on the roles of characters.
The protagonist was Emil Bleehall, a nondescript man from Sandusky, Ohio.
He somehow earned the admiration of his peers by competing in the Balderdash Cup.
Other resident adventurers included:
- Hathaway Brown, pilot and ladies’ man
- Graves the Butler, the butler
- Fletcher Hodges, club curator and absent-minded professor type
- Madame Zarkov, a mysterious Gypsy character who only rarely appeared
- The Maid, an anonymous maid whose identity changed frequently
- Pamelia Perkins, club president
- Samantha Sterling, explorer by day and cabaret singer by night
- Otis T. Wren, club treasurer and fan of fish
The cast members portraying these primary roles would entertain a new batch of guests each night.
As such, they had to master their character and the art of improvisation.
One such performer, Paula Pell, leveraged her newfound skills into a gig as a Saturday Night Live writer. She even created the Spartan Cheerleaders!
That anecdote says everything about the ambitious nature of Adventurers Club and the demands it placed on its performers.
More about the Adventurers Club
This nightclub was more experiential than anything Disney has created since then. As such, no words do it justice.
Those who want to fully understand the Adventurers Club should lose themselves in some YouTube binging. Here’s the theme song:
Don’t you love that song? I mean the last one, not the first.
Here’s a walkthrough video of some of the sights:
Oh, and here’s an induction ceremony for a new member!
Adventurers Club also followed the overall premise of Pleasure Island by celebrating New Year’s Eve every (!) night from 1989 until 2005.
The legacy of this nightclub also matters. It’s the genesis of the Society of Adventurers and Explorers (S.E.A.), the secret club.
Park planners from Tokyo Disneyland loved Adventurers Club so much that they wanted their own connection. The S.E.A. developed from that.
Disney has recently indicated plans for an interconnected television and film universe of theme park attractions.
Elements from the Adventurers Club could conceivably factor into those plans. And it would even make sense for this place to make a comeback!
After all, according to the story, the place vanished for 40 years before its triumphant return.
After 13 years away, it’s about time for history to repeat itself, right?
Feature Image: ExtinctDisney.com