A Breath of Fresh Air 

A mobile oxygen bar is invading Memphis nightclubs.

House DJ legend Dave London is on the turntables when I step into Stop 345. A guy in a leopard costume is hugging on a couple of glittered-up girls in skimpy outfits. Another guy, sporting silver face paint and dressed as some sort of Aztec Sun God, wanders through the crowd, holding his oversized headpiece to keep it from falling off. NRGLuv Productions is throwing a party called "How Memphis Got Its Groove Back," and throughout the building, kids are partying.

But I'm not here for that. I'm on a mission to find a good rush -- an oxygen rush. Local entrepreneurs Kelly Derscheid and Robin Kendall of Oxygen Rush have set up their mobile oxygen bar at the club, and I'm here to give it a try.

There's no one sitting at the eight sleek silver chairs positioned in front of the bar, so I plop down. An attendant takes my five dollars and hands me a lime-green nose cannula that looks like one of those plastic things you see in people's nostrils in the hospital. He hooks it to a small silver machine with four tubes of brightly colored liquid.

In the tubes are four different flavors of oxygen -- Eucalyptus, Cloud Lime, Lavender, and the Beach (a wisteria blend) -- and the attendant tells me I've got five minutes to try them all. By flipping a switch underneath each tube, I can turn each flavor on or off at will.

I place the cannula in my nostrils and turn on the eucalyptus. A surge of mentholated air shoots up my nose, and I'm whisked back to my childhood days of Vicks VapoRub. Next I try the lavender and a soothing calm comes over me. Give me a pillow and I could probably go to sleep if it weren't for that bass-pumping techno blasting in my ears. The lime and wisteria flavors are crisp and tropical, but I just keep going back to that invigorating eucalyptus.

A guy walks up to the bar, takes a look at me, and giggles. At that point, I realize how silly I must look hooked to a machine by my nose. Then he hooks up too. My five minutes are over, and I stand up feeling slightly more energized.

Oxygen bars have been popular for a while in larger cities, but in Memphis, the trend is just getting started. For the past year, Derscheid and Kendall have run the only mobile oxygen bar in the city, setting up at various nightclubs and parties on the weekends.

"Nightclubs like it because it keeps people awake and wanting to party longer," says Derscheid. "It doesn't change your blood alcohol level by any means, but as you drink, you get tired, and the pure oxygen helps you stay energized, especially when you've been dancing for 30 to 45 minutes."

Breathing the flavored air has been touted as a way to gain energy, reduce stress, and help ease headaches. Normally, we breathe in 16 to 21 percent oxygen but while hooked up to a recreational oxygen-dispensing machine, the dose is much higher: 87 to 92 percent. Fans claim it's this higher percentage of oxygen that creates extra energy, though a recent article in FDA Consumer Magazine dismisses the assertion due to a lack of scientific evidence.

"We get the occasional skeptic, and if you don't like it, that's fine," says Kendall. "But at least try it before you make a judgment on it. Most people who actually do sit down and try it end up liking it."

Kendall says Oxygen Rush makes no medical claims because they're not dealing with medical-grade oxygen, which is generally 99 to 100 percent pure. And while there may not be any real health benefit, a statement from the American Lung Association claims "there is no evidence that oxygen at the low-flow levels used in bars can be dangerous to a normal person's health." Oxygen bars, however, are not recommended for people with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or asthma. Oxygen Rush has a license from the FDA to dispense oxygen, which is supplied by an oxygen-bar supply company.

The oxygen comes in 32 water-based flavors such as mint-rosemary or sugar cookie. Derscheid has even designed a special menu to help customers find flavors that complement their cocktails -- for example, Death By Chocolate oxygen is a good match with a chocolate martini.

Oxygen bars also have become staples at day spas and salons. The Hi Gorgeous Salon in Midtown recently opened one. Derscheid and Kendall say they have dreams of opening a fixed location too.

"People are always asking us where they can find us so they can come and breathe anytime," Derscheid says. "We know there's an interest here, and we've got some ideas about how we want to work it. It wouldn't just be an oxygen bar. We'd probably have drinks and some laid-back live music."

The Oxygen Rush bar will be set up at Club 152 (152 Beale St.) on Friday, March 26th. For more information, go to OxygenRush.net.

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