Walt Disney World Resort, 1990. Bright yellow rain ponchos adorned with Mickey heads, disposable film cameras pulled out while meeting the Mad Hatter, the grand opening of Star Tours, and who could forget the blacklight decor, fog machines, strobe lights, and “Head Like A Hole” by Nine Inch Nails playing?
If you feel like some of that doesn’t belong, that’s where you’re wrong. From 1990 to 1992, Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island was home to Cage: a night club self described as THE place for alternative music. Since it replaced area club Videopolis East, Cage inherited the 170 video screens that came with it, and used those to play visuals from the most in vogue alternative and industrial artists. Attendees remember hearing everything from radio-friendly “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode, to the anti-religion screams of “Welcome to Paradise V1.0” by Front 242 — all on Disney property.
Cage quickly gained a reputation as the “oddest” club Pleasure Island had to offer… A big statement, as the nightlife district itself was odd. There were improv clubs that directly made fun of Disney, a Jessica Rabbit lingerie shop, a famously elaborate multi-level 1930s explorers “private club,” and the entire district was wrapped in eccentric stories of fictional Merriweather Pleasure. Interestingly, Cage was introduced to Pleasure Island with no such lore attached, but it didn’t need it. The aesthetics from the types of videos played — Depeche Mode dressed as fairy tale kings, Nine Inch Nails caged up and screaming with pigs heads spinning, INXS roaming the moody streets of Prague — that was all the theme Cage needed.
With the club lasting only two years before its Disney bubble burst, and little discussion in Disney circles today, it’s easy to assume Cage was a failure. But while the tourists weren’t coming in droves, Cage became a well loved and missed home for the locals, passholders, and Cast Members to join in the chant.
“Looking back, it is hard to believe that The Cage even existed. It was the perfect spot for a fan of alternative and industrial music.” recalls Drew Garabo, a Cast Member at the time now DJing in Tampa. “I think we half begrudgingly, half passionately embraced the fact that it was in [Lake Buena Vista]. We’d do the ‘white people dancing to alternative music’ dance and mock tourists who accidentally stumbled into our caged playground. They were always a mix of startled and bewildered, which we loved.”
Cage was by no means the only alternative club in the Orlando area at the time. But Disney is Disney, so their eye for detail extended to Cage. Much like the Disney Springs restaurants of today, Cage featured their own signature cocktail that immersed you in the atmosphere called Toxic Waste. It was “heavy on the booze, but it was served in a white plastic replica of a toxic waste drum container that you got to keep that would glow in the club’s black lighting” recalls Lance Hart, creator of Screamscape.
The energy in the club was “dark, but laid back if you enjoyed the music” Hart added. That really seemed to be the key to Cage’s appeal and demise — you had to enjoy the music. Part of Pleasure Island’s gimmick was that every day is New Years Eve, so to casually stumble upon Ministry’s “Every Day is Halloween” surrounded by drinks out of glowing toxic waste drums could be jarring. This is not to dismiss tourists entirely, as Garabo remembers the “cool tourist” making their way into Cage amongst the local crowd. Yet Pleasure Island aimed to be the tourist heavy version of nearby Church Street Station, keeping Magic Kingdom visitors within the mouse ears and away from competitors. The parents leaving their kid with grandma to go to Pleasure Island just weren’t the same people heading to an Erasure show.
So, where is Cage now? Well, physically, Morimoto Asia sits in the area, taking up both Cage’s land and Mannequins old stomping grounds. In reality, Cage lives on whenever you see a family of four walking through Epcot with their gothic teen daughter in tow. It exists when Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween blasts songs sung by new wave icon Danny Elfman and Jack Skellington looms ahead. Disney Adults get a bad reputation, deeming them sheep, not deep or artistic, not passionate about other things, even slaves to a company. Cage was proof of how multifaceted humans can be — riding “It’s A Small World” by day, and drinking to “Blue Monday” by night.
Thanks to the lovely people who shared their stories with me!
You can check out Drew Garabo’s radio show on 102.5 FM in Tampa, Monday through Friday from 2:00 to 5:00. To follow his journey battling cancer, you can join his Substack.
Hannah is an accidental internet meme, drummer, loud talker, and proud owner of a purse that functions as a working analog clock. She got the media writer gene from her dad, PF Wilson, another writer for Pop Culture Beast. Her favorite bands come and go on a seasonal rotation, but Marina & The Diamonds and Say Anything are here to say. She’s probably watching The Grand Budapest Hotel right now, but if she isn’t, she’s out photographing rock concerts.