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Friday, April 3, 2020

Anyone Remember the Neon Armadillo?

by Beth Keating
Feature Story
April 3, 2020

My husband and I are fans of country music, so perhaps it is no surprise that we have an odd assortment of boot shaped glasses in our cabinet. Last week, as I was weeding out the overflowing drinkware cabinet (coronavirus quarantine will force you to do things like that), I came across a glass tucked away in the back that I had forgotten about.  The logo was for the Neon Armadillo. Anybody remember that particular hot spot? I’m dating myself again, aren’t I?

Back when Disney Springs was still the rocking place known as Pleasure Island, with its nightly New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration and countdown to midnight, the terrain was lined with clubs and unique shopping venues of differing genres. According to the Imagineers’ elaborate lore, Pleasure Island was once the home to explorer Merriweather Pleasure. Historical markers throughout the complex attributed the various buildings to uses for Merriweather’s former canvas manufacturing and sail making industry. Merriweather disappeared, presumed dead, during a sea adventure, and the property passed to his inept sons, who led the business into bankruptcy. After years in ruin, the site was rescued as “Pleasure Island,” a “living monument” to Merriweather, who was known for his love of fun times. 

A Comedy Warehouse; the multi-level Mannequins with its revolving, light up dance floor; the Rock n Roll Beach Club (formerly a roller rink dance club – who knew such a thing was possible, right?); and restaurants like the Empress Lilly, housed on a “steamboat,” brought the reclaimed island to life. By far our favorite Pleasure Island hangout, though, was The Adventurers Club, with its cast of quirky actors who embodied the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A).  The Neon Armadillo Music Saloon was the neighbor to The Adventurers Club, and it opened on May 1, 1989, and closed in 1998. It then became the BET Soundstage Club, which itself eventually closed in 2008. You wouldn’t recognize the spot now with its transformation to The Landing section of Disney Springs.

The Neon Armadillo’s backstory was that it had originally been built in 1927 to serve as the greenhouse for Merriweather Pleasure’s exotic plants collection, and in the down years after Merriweather’s death and the destruction of the island by Hurricane Connie, the place had been overrun by a family of armadillos. Now brought back to use as a country-western music venue, it was decorated in southwestern style and populated by denizens in scuffed boots, spangled fringe jackets, and black cowboy hats. Line dancing was the activity du jour, featuring live bands. On the nights we were there, it was often standing room only, as the music was good and the dancers fun to watch. (Hubby wouldn’t be caught dead on the dance floor, however.)  Mullet hair was prevalent (“Business in the front and party in the back”), and I’m pretty sure we heard more than a few renditions of “Achy Breaky Heart,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” and “God Blessed Texas.” 

The club also hosted a variety of dance contests, and even taped a Countdown at the Neon Armadillo TV show featuring big name and up-and-coming country music stars performing live as they showcased Billboard’s Top 10 hits each week.

I’m glad I dropped the $8.95 on this kitschy mug back in the day (the price tag was still on the bottom of the glass). It was a fun reminder of the high energy vibe at Pleasure Island.  Kind of miss that ole place.

Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.

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