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25 Things You Should Know About Nirvana

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Though he died tragically at the age of 27, today marks what would have been Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's 50th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, here are 25 things you should know about the alternative rock icon and his legendary band.

1. KURT COBAIN DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, THEN WORKED THERE AS A JANITOR.

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Even though he was by all accounts a slob, Kurt Cobain worked as a janitor at Weatherwax High School, not long after dropping out of that very school. The dancing janitor in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video was an inside joke for those who knew of Cobain's old job.

2. THE TITLE FOR "ABOUT A GIRL" CAME ABOUT VERY QUICKLY.

Chad Channing, one of Nirvana's drummers before Dave Grohl, claimed that one day he asked Cobain what the song was about. "About a girl," was Cobain's reply. "Why don't you just call it that?"

The girl in question was Cobain's girlfriend, Tracy Marander, who asked why he wrote about everything—including Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show—but her. Marander didn't even realize that she was the "girl" until she read the official biography of the band, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, four years later.

3. THERE WERE AT LEAST FIVE DIFFERENT DRUMMERS IN THE BAND BEFORE DAVE GROHL.

Cobain and Novoselic were always members of Nirvana—formerly known as Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, Bliss, and Ted Ed Fred—but finding a permanent drummer proved to be even harder than coming up with a decent band name. In the beginning, there was trivia answer Aaron Burckhard, who pissed off Cobain by getting Kurt's car impounded after being arrested for fighting with a police officer. Then there was Melvins drummer Dale Crover, who pounded the skins for Cobain and Novoselic on their first demo tape before moving to San Francisco. Next came Dave Foster, who got arrested for assaulting the son of the mayor of Cosmopolis, Washington. Burckhard briefly returned before announcing he was too hungover to practice one day. Then a mutual friend introduced Cobain and Novoselic to Chad Channing, who hung around for two years before the group's co-founders decided he wasn't cutting it anymore. Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters played on the "Sliver" single.

Back in Washington, Crover performed with Cobain and Novoselic on a seven date tour with Sonic Youth in August 1990, before Dave Grohl's band Scream broke up and Melvins frontman Buzz Osbourne introduced Grohl to Cobain and Novoselic, ending the vicious cycle of rotating drummers.

4. NIRVANA'S FIRST SINGLE WAS A COVER.

Nirvana's first official release was a cover of "Love Buzz" by the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue. You know Shocking Blue not by "Love Buzz" but by their classic song "Venus," which reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in February 1970 and sold 7.5 million copies. A 1986 Bananarama cover also topped the charts. "Love Buzz" however did neither of those things, for either Shocking Blue or Nirvana.

5. NIRVANA'S FIRST ALBUM COST $606.17 TO MAKE.

Guitarist Jason Everman didn't play on Bleach, Nirvana's first album, but was added to the band to add a second guitar to the mix soon after. He was a leading candidate to foot the bill—which came to $606.17—because he was the only person in the band to have an actual paying job. Unfortunately for Everman, his withdrawn attitude clashed with Cobain's similar disposition while on tour, resulting in a lot of long, silent driving and a severe lack of band chemistry

Everman failed upward, becoming the bass player for Soundgarden. He would be canned from that gig after one tour, before Soundgarden made it big. Everman's life after near-stardom was profiled in The New York Times Magazine in 2013, where it was reported that he joined the Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion and then the Special Forces, serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Columbia University. 

6. "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT" WAS INSPIRED BY COBAIN'S GIRLFRIEND'S DEODORANT. AND ALCOHOL.

After a night of drinking, Kurt Cobain and then-roommate Dave Grohl were joined by Bikini Kill songwriter/vocalist Kathleen Hanna and drummer Tobi Vail at their humble pre-fame abode. The party continued, and eventually Hanna spray painted "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on Cobain's wall, a reference to the deodorant Vail—Cobain's girlfriend at the time—used to smell pleasant without any white residue. As the rest of the legend goes, Cobain loved the phrasing and wrote the song without knowing of the Teen Spirit deodorant's existence until after it was recorded.

7. THE SONG'S RIFF WAS A "RIP OFF" OF THE PIXIES. AND "MORE THAN A FEELING."

The Pixies are universally credited with inventing the loud-quiet dynamic in 1987 with their debut EP Come on Pilgrim. It wouldn't be until 1990—one year after Nirvana's debut album Bleach—that Cobain's affection for the band would heavily influence his songwriting, and through that lens, "Spirit" pretty much sounds like a Pixies parody. Cobain admitted to trying to rip off the group, and at a big 1992 concert in Reading, he also acknowledged the song's passing resemblance to Boston's "More Than A Feeling."

8. WHEN COBAIN SAW HIMSELF ON TV FOR THE FIRST TIME, HE CALLED HIS MOTHER.

The music video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" premiered on MTV's alternative music show 120 Minutes on Sunday, September 29, 1991. Cobain watched himself in a hotel room at The Roger Smith Hotel in New York City and called his mother to tell her, "There's me."

9. THE BAND WAS ACCUSED OF PLAGIARISM.

It all began in 1989, when Nirvana's "Negative Creep" featured the chorus "Daddy's little girl ain't a girl no more," which reminded a lot of the band's early listeners of Mudhoney's "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More." Nothing came of it, but years later Cobain might have had that in mind when he warned Nirvana's co-manager Danny Goldberg about making "Come As You Are" the next single after "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

"Kurt was nervous about 'Come as You Are' because it was too similar to a Killing Joke song ['Eighties'], but we all thought it was still the better song to go with," Goldberg told Rolling Stone. "And, he was right, Killing Joke later did complain about it." But that's all they did—complain.

Killing Joke never actually took the band to court over the similarities to their 1984 song due to "personal and financial reasons," and possibly because "Eighties" itself sounds an awful lot like The Damned's 1982 song "Life Goes On." Shrugging and muttering to themselves that good artists borrow and great artists steal, Killing Joke welcomed Dave Grohl behind the drum kit to play on their 2003 album.

The only time that someone actually sued Nirvana was director Kevin Kerslake, who alleged that Cobain used some of his ideas for the "Heart Shaped Box" music video. The case was settled out of court.

10. THE ORIGINAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR "IN BLOOM" IS FROM 1990 AND SET IN NEW YORK CITY.

"In Bloom"—along with other Nevermind songs "Breed," "Lithium," and "Polly"—was a song intended for a 1990 album with Sub Pop, the band's initial record label. At first, Sub Pop seemed to be up to the task, paying for a recording session and releasing a music video showing the band performing the intended first single at a couple of different shows, traversing around David Dinkins-era lower Manhattan. Because nobody told Novoselic about continuity, he appears in parts of the video completely bald—the bassist thought his playing was so bad at one gig that he shaved his head to appease the bass gods. 

Sub Pop, however, would prove to be on the verge of bankruptcy, and would only be saved by the deal they made with Geffen Records to receive some royalties from Nevermind. Helping to keep the cash flowing was "In Bloom," the album's fourth single, promoted by a much more professional looking and thought out video with the band performing on an old Ed Sullivan Show type of program.

11. THE ORIGINAL "LITHIUM" VIDEO CONCEPT WAS A CARTOON.

Initially, Cobain and director Kevin Kerslake agreed on Cobain's idea for the "Lithium" video: an animated story about a girl named Prego who discovers some eggs that hatch. Unfortunately, the two discovered—a bit too late—that the animation would take four months to produce and decided to just use footage from a couple of live performances. Kerslake did his best to make things interesting by using video of the band at its most vibrant, manic moments during the quiet parts of the song, and vice versa.

12. NEVERMIND'S "CANDY-ASS" SOUND WAS THANKS IN PART TO JOHN LENNON.

Nevermind producer Butch Vig really wanted Cobain to double track his vocals to make the songs sound "fuller," "richer," and not have the record label spend a lot of money to purposely sound lo-fi. Cobain thought that would just be another indication of the band losing its indie, punk credibility (even though he was already recording a major label album). Vig knew that Cobain was a big John Lennon fan, so whenever Kurt would initially not agree to sing along with himself, Vig would tell him, "John Lennon did it." It worked, every time.

Cobain would later claim to resent the mainstream, radio-friendly production of the hugely successful album, poetically and timelessly describing it in 1993 as "candy-ass."

13. "DRAIN YOU," "LOUNGE ACT," AND SEVERAL SONGS ON NEVERMIND ARE REPORTEDLY ABOUT TOBI VAIL.

Author Charles R. Cross—backed with access to Cobain's private journals and pages of unrecorded lyrics—theorized in his 2001 Kurt Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven that Nevermind is full of references to Tobi Vail, who broke up with Cobain months before the album's recording. The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" lyric that talks about a woman being over-bored and self-assured was likely to be about Cobain's ex. "Drain You" begins with the line, "One baby to another said 'I'm lucky to have met you,'" quoting what Vail had once told Cobain. "Lounge Act" in particular was unequivocally about the Bikini Kill drummer, confirmed by Novoselic and by Cobain himself in an unwritten letter to Vail that Cross read. Cobain wrote: "Every song on this record [In Utero] is not about you. No, I am not your boyfriend. No, I don't write songs about you, except for 'Lounge Act,' which I do not play, except when my wife is not around." 

14. "POLLY" WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Kurt Cobain wrote "Polly" in 1987 after reading an article about the torture and rape of a 14-year-old girl. Cobain chose to write the song from the perspective of the girl, inventing the name "Polly" to aid in a consistent, innocent-sounding bird metaphor. After hearing the song, Bob Dylan said of Cobain, "That kid has heart."

15. THE BAND WAS THROWN OUT OF THEIR OWN RECORD RELEASE PARTY.

On a Friday the 13th, Geffen threw the band a record release party with invitations that read, "Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia, Here's Nirvana." Cobain started a full-fledged food fight when he threw ranch dressing at Novoselic, and a bouncer responded by grabbing the two and Grohl and throwing them out. The band then stood in the alley behind the club and talked to their friends through the window, before moving the party to a friend's place, where Cobain shot a fire extinguisher and the place had to be evacuated. At the next venue, Cobain completed the destruction trifecta by tossing a gold record plaque by the group Nelson into a microwave after proclaiming it an "affront to humankind."

16. "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC ASKED FOR NIRVANA'S PERMISSION TO WRITE "SMELLS LIKE NIRVANA" IN THEIR SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE DRESSING ROOM.

Three events on January 11, 1992 proved that Nirvana had completely made the unprecedented transition from underground punk band to universally beloved supergroup: Nevermind was #1 for the first time on that day's Billboard 200 albums chart; the band made their SNL debut performing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings" on the Rob Morrow-hosted late night show. To the joy of Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl, they got a phone call from "Weird Al" Yankovic.

"That was the craziest weekend because we get there, and the first time you see the SNL studio, it's tiny," Grohl recalled in 2011. "You imagine it being this big thing but honestly it's tiny, it's so small. The energy is crazy and people are running around and it goes so quickly, and one of the cast members comes up and says, 'Hey I'm friends with Weird Al Yankovic and he wants to talk to you about doing one of your songs.' And so I think we talked to him in the dressing room of SNL. He called the phone. You know you've arrived when Weird Al ... it was pretty huge. And he did a good job."

17. IN UTERO WAS INITIALLY GOING TO BE TITLED I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE.

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Nirvana's album titles tended to evolve over time: Nirvana's first album was recorded under the operating title Too Many Humans, until Cobain saw a sign in San Francisco that said to "Bleach Your Works"; Nevermind started out as Sheep, married to artwork of rows and rows of identical houses. Even though it was intended as a joke, Novoselic pointed out to Cobain that he was opening himself up to tons of potential lawsuits, and the idea was dropped.

18. THE SONG "I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE" FEATURES A JACK HANDEY "DEEP THOUGHT."

Even though the threat of lawsuits stopped the band from naming an album "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," it didn't stop them from recording a song with the title "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," although it might be the reason that it was left off of the In Utero album. Instead, the song with the misunderstood title (it was supposed to be a joke) found a home as the opening track on The Beavis and Butt-head Experience compilation album. But in the middle of the song, after helping to promote one television show, Cobain acknowledged a different, more mainstream show when he mumbled, "Most people don't realize that large pieces of coral, which have been painted brown and attached to the skull by common wood screws, can make a child look like a deer," an SNL "Deep Thought" from Jack Handey.

19. ELTON JOHN SUFFERED COLLATERAL DAMAGE DUE TO NIRVANA'S WAR WITH GUNS N' ROSES.

Kurt Cobain considered Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose to be a homophobe and a racist, an opinion that other people agreed with thanks to the lyrics of the GNR song "One in a Million." At the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, two pianos were set up on stage for an epic performance of "November Rain." Thinking Axl was going to play on it, Cobain spit on the keys of one of the pianos. To his horror, Kurt later found out that he had given a coat of saliva on the piano played by special guest Elton John.

20. MTV REALLY DID NOT WANT NIRVANA TO PLAY "RAPE ME" AT THE VMAS.

Nirvana was causing nothing but trouble at the '92 VMAs, and naturally their choice of song was one big issue. MTV told the band that they would like to hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The band responded by saying that they were respectfully going to remember the clout they had earned over the past year and premiere a brand new song called "Rape Me" instead (a song that actually made its premier at a Santa Cruz concert one year earlier).

The network was not only scared by the title, but somewhat correctly surmised that the song was somewhat about them. The network countered that if the band played "Rape Me" on the live telecast that they would fire Amy Finnerty, an employee Cobain was close friends with, and would stop playing the band's videos. Although both parties agreed on "Lithium," MTV didn't trust Cobain, and for the second consecutive time, their paranoia proved to be well founded: When the band launched into the first few chords of "Rape Me," the control room was ready to go directly to commercial. At the last possible moment, Nirvana stopped the sneak preview to play the memorable version of "Lithium" which ended with Novoselic hitting himself in the head with his bass and Cobain and Grohl sarcastically saying hello to Axl Rose.

21. NOVOSELIC PLAYED A NIRVANA GIG AT THE SEATTLE CENTER COLISEUM, EVEN THOUGH HE WAS BANNED FROM THE PREMISES.

Before performing at a Washington Music Industry Coalition Benefit on September 11, 1992 (two days after the VMAs), Nirvana couldn't help but notice that a photo of Novoselic was on the wall backstage, indicating that he was banned for life due to his behavior at a Sonic Youth concert one year before. They opened the show discussing it. Novoselic has yet to be punished for the crime.

22. "HEART SHAPED BOX" WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED "HEART SHAPED COFFIN."

Even though the song was inspired by an actual heart shaped box sent by Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain during the early days of their relationship, the initial lyrics read that the narrator was "buried" in the box (as opposed to "locked"), with the "Heart Shaped Coffin" title.

23. "ALL APOLOGIES" ORIGINALLY SOUNDED LIKE A BEATLES SONG.

The group wrote one third of 1993's In Utero in 1990. During an informal recording session on New Year's Day 1991, Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl put down an early, jangly version of "All Apologies." Some of the verses didn't have words yet, but the refrain "Married/Buried" was more or less set, a little over one year before Cobain's wedding to Love.

24. DAVE GROHL WROTE THE RIFF TO "SCENTLESS APPRENTICE."

Grohl had been writing songs on his own since he joined Nirvana, even releasing a cassette album of his work in 1992 called Pocketwatch, under the pseudonym Late! It was understood that Cobain was the lone songwriter of Nirvana, but Grohl couldn't help himself and presented the group with the guitar riff and drum parts of what would turn out to be "Scentless Apprentice." Cobain said in an interview that he initially thought Grohl's riff wasn't very good but tried it out to not hurt his feelings (which of course was a nice thing to do until he revealed his thought to a reporter for Grohl to later read). Aside from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Scentless Apprentice" was the only song from a Nirvana album that was given a "Cobain/Novoselic/Grohl" writing credit instead of Cobain receiving sole recognition.

Possibly as a reward, "Color Pictures of a Marigold," one of the songs from Pocketwatch, was recorded by Grohl and Novoselic toward the end of the In Utero sessions, and was released as "Marigold," a B-side to the "Heart Shaped Box" single. It would end up being the only Nirvana song that had no input from Cobain.

25. COBAIN EMBELLISHED THE LEADBELLY GUITAR STORY BY ABOUT $445,000.

Before his classic cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" on MTV Unplugged, Cobain was provoked by Novoselic to talk about Leadbelly's guitar. "This guy representing the Leadbelly estate wants to sell me Leadbelly's guitar for $500,000," Cobain said. "I even asked David Geffen personally if he would buy it for me. Wouldn't do it."

It's possible that Cobain was trying to pull a fast one on the CEO of his label, because a few months earlier he wondered to a New York Times reporter if buying the guitar for $55,000 was a "punk move" or an "anti-punk move." Separating $445,000 from David Geffen would of course be both.

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Food
25 Cupcake Bakeries You've Got to Try
Courtesy Maxie B's
Courtesy Maxie B's

While it's difficult to improve upon perfection, bakers are constantly putting new twists on cupcakes. These bakeries showcase the latest trends and the classic style we all know and love.

1. BAKED & WIRED // WASHINGTON, D.C.

A chocolate cupcake from Baked & Wired in Washington, D.C.
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Baked & Wired is where Georgetown locals go when they’re hankering for something sweet. In 2001, owners Tony and Teresa Velazquez were running a graphics studio out of the same location when they realized they wanted to expand to baked goods and coffee (hence the name Baked & Wired). They offer a variety of unique “cakecup” flavors with equally unique names, like the Pretty Bitchin’, Chocolate Cupcake of Doom (above), and Uniporn and Rainho. They also offer a vegan Oreo cakecup.

2. THE COPPER HEN CAKERY & KITCHEN // MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

A blueberry muffin topped with frosting and a piece of bacon from The Copper Hen.
Courtesy The Copper Hen

The Copper Hen—a restaurant and wedding venue that serves farm-to-table food and desserts—offers a variety of cupcakes, including miniatures, individual-sized cakes in mason jars you can keep, and cakes that come with a pipette of booze for infusing. Two must-tries are the top selling Champagne Cupcake and the Bacon Blueberry Breakfast Cupcake, a streusel crumb cake layered with bacon and blueberries (as if we needed an excuse to have cupcakes for breakfast). The Copper Hen also sells a chocolate gluten-free cupcake with buttercream frosting.

3. MUDDY’S BAKE SHOP // MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Two trays of cupcakes from Muddy's Bake Shop.
Kat Gordon

Muddy’s Bake Shop has two locations in Memphis and East Memphis, plus a “secret kitchen,” closed to the public, where they hold classes and pop-up shops. This small-batch, home-style bakery cares about making their community a better place by using sustainable practices and supporting local charities. Owner Kat Gordon says the cupcake that started it all is her best-selling Prozac—a classic devil’s food chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. If you’re into making cupcakes but hate doing dishes, Muddy's will ship you a DIY kit featuring the Prozac and Capote cupcakes. The kit includes six plain cupcakes in each flavor, two bags of frosting, and sprinkles.

4. KYRA’S BAKE SHOP // LAKE OSWEGO, OREGON

A chocolate cupcake topped with caramel popcorn and frosting.
Courtesy Kyra's Bakery

Every item at Kyra’s Bake Shop—the only four-time winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars—is 100 percent gluten-free. The menu is updated monthly and posted on the website so customers can plan their visits around the featured cupcake flavors. Owner Kyra Bussanich recommends trying the PMS, a chocolate cake filled with salted caramel, dipped in chocolate ganache, and topped with marshmallow meringue and peanut butter buttercream frosting. But check the menu because, she says, “it only happens once a month.” You can purchase Kyra’s recipe book, Sweet Cravings, to bake all of her award-winning cupcakes and other treats at home.

5. FOREVER SWEET BAKERY // NORWALK, CONNECTICUT

Push pop cupcakes of various flavors from Forever Sweet Bakery.
Courtesy Forever Sweet Bakery

Locals have voted Forever Sweet Bakery the area’s best bakery four years in a row. Forever Sweet specializes in custom cakes and serves all kinds of mouthwatering cupcake flavors, from Beer Batter Bacon to Banana Honey Cinnamon. You can walk into their shop to purchase a treat from the case, or you can order ahead for one of their “outside the box” styles, like a cupcake push-pop—vanilla cake layered between globs of frosting that will be sure to make you feel like a kid again.

6. CUPCAKE SUSHI // KEY WEST, FLORIDA

A cupcake that looks like a piece of sushi.
Courtesy Cupcake Sushi

These bite-sized, patent-pending cupcakes are hand-rolled and can be eaten with chopsticks, just like real sushi. Owner Lori Shubert started Cupcake Sushi after trying to create a smaller cupcake that didn’t lose flavor. Since traditional paper tends to dry out the cake, she experimented with scooping out the center of normal cupcakes and rolling her buttercream frosting around it. These sweet treats are offered only in Florida at select retail locations for now, but the company will soon offer franchise opportunities. You can also order these little gems online—Shubert recommends trying the Key Lime, Triple Chocolate, and Red Velvet.

7. DIA DOCE // WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA

A chocolate cupcake topped with a piece of brownie and chocolate sauce from Dia Doce bakery.
Courtesy Dia Doce

Dia Doce (“Sweet Day” in Portuguese) has won numerous local awards, including “Best of the Main Line,” and also took first place on the Food Network show Cupcake Wars. You can see their green cupcake truck at local festivals or pop into their brick-and-mortar location in West Chester. Sustainability is important to owner Thais da Silva Viggue, so the shop uses seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Dia Doce has created more than 100 unusual cupcakes, from Lemon Basil to Cereal and Milk to Waffle Cone. That last one features vanilla cake with a fudge center, salted caramel frosting, and a garnish of a waffle drizzled with a bittersweet ganache and rainbow sprinkles.

8. NOTHING BUNDT CAKES // VARIOUS LOCATIONS

Delicious, bundt-cake shaped cupcakes on a tray.
Courtesy Nothing Bundt Cakes

Nothing Bundt Cakes was started in 1997 by two friends, Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz. They began baking cakes for friends and family, and they received so many compliments that they realized they could launch an entire bakery. While their signature items are full-size bundt cakes, they do offer bite-sized Bundtinis and mini bundt cakes called Bundtlets. You have to try the Chocolate Chocolate Chip— with more than 220 bakeries throughout the country, you might be lucky enough to find a location within driving distance.

9. BAKED DESSERT CAFE // BERLIN, MARYLAND

Cupcake bombs from Baked Dessert Cafe.
Courtesy of Baked Dessert Cafe

Baked is a made-from-scratch bakery that produces a whole line of delicious items, but customers rave about the cafe's cupcake bombs—an all-natural twist on the popular cake pop (which are usually dipped in artificially-flavored chocolate). They offer a few standard flavors every day, like the popular Chocolate Cake with chocolate icing, and rotate in a few seasonal flavors (like fall's Apple Spice).

10. NADIA CAKES // PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA

A container of four cupcakes from Nadia Cakes.
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Owner Abby Jimenez opened her first Nadia Cakes in Palmdale in 2009, and since then, has won a number of awards and opened two Minnesota stores in Maple Grove and Woodbury. Nadia Cakes offers cupcakes that are both whimsical and delicious (there's even one called Unicorn Barf that looks surprisingly tasty). Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to visit when the featured flavor is Caramel Red Velvet Junkyard, a moist red velvet cupcake filled with fudge and topped with caramel buttercream, caramel and chocolate drizzle, M&M’s, Oreo and red velvet crumbs, rainbow sprinkles, and a mini Oreo.

11. MAXIE B’S // GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA

A side-by-side photo of Maxie B's s'more cupcake—one whole, one cut in half.
Courtesy Maxie B's

Maxie B’s began in 1985 as a yogurt shop but evolved into the cute bakery that it is today. Named after the owners’ pugs, this shop offers dog treats (pupcakes!) as well as people treats. Oozing with the southern charm you would expect from a North Carolina bakery, they are best known for their layered cakes, but have a scrumptious assortment of pies and, of course, cupcakes. The cupcake menu changes seasonally, and all of Maxie B's items are always made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients. Some seasonally popular varieties to try are the S’mores, the Streuseled Sweet Potato, and the Harry Potter-inspired Butterbeer. They also offer southern flavors like King Cake, Sweet Tea, and Mint Julep.

12. HUASCAR & CO. BAKESHOP // NEW YORK CITY

A creme brulee cupcake from Huascar & Co.
Erin McCarthy

Huascar & Co., located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, is owned by Chef Huascar Aquino—the only NYC baker, so far, to have won Cupcake Wars. The bakery uses the freshest ingredients to craft its cupcakes; there are 19 flavors served every day, with many stuffed decadently with cream. You can expect two to three additional flavors that will rotate with the seasons. One of their most popular cupcakes is the Crème Brûlée, a vanilla bean cake with vanilla bean crème brûlée filling, vanilla icing, and a sugar crust that is torched when you order it.

13. HAPPYCAKES:) CUPCAKERY // MOREHEAD CITY, NORTH CAROLINA

The Cookie Dough Cupcake from Happycakes.
Courtesy of Happycakes:)

Happycakes is an award-winning bakery located in Morehead City (a second location in Cary, North Carolina, is opening soon). They use all-natural ingredients and avoid food dyes and artificial flavors. Every cupcake in the shop is made fresh each morning, and the flavors change daily; there's even a schedule on the Happycakes website so you can time your visit. One of the most popular flavors is Cookie Dough, a vanilla cake with a homemade cookie dough center, swirled in a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, and topped with a homemade cookie. And don’t feel guilty about buying a dozen, because 10 percent of every sale is donated to a charity that fights sex trafficking in the Philippines. Charitable and delicious.

14. PINKITZEL CUPCAKES & CANDY // TULSA AND OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

The interior of Pinkitzel Cupcakes & Candy in Oklahoma City.
Elizabeth Albert, Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0

Pinkitzel's two locations are full of eye candy and actual candy. The whimsical and colorful spaces are exactly what husband-and-wife owners Christa and Jonathan were hoping to achieve. Since opening in 2010, their shops have served more than half a million cupcakes and has become one of Oklahoma’s top destinations on TripAdvisor. If you’re lucky enough to live nearby, you can host your next birthday party or bridal shower there and expect to blow your guests away. Almost every cupcake is topped with candy and sprinkles, and flavors range from Bubblegum Cupcake to Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake to Peanut Butter Nutella.

15. MOLLY’S CUPCAKES // ILLINOIS, NEW YORK, AND IOWA

Two cupcakes from Molly's Cupcakes in Chicago.
Jaysin Trevino, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

John Nicolaides’s third grade teacher, Miss Molly, baked cupcakes for her students’ birthdays; now, he’s giving back with his bakery, Molly’s Cupcakes, which donates a portion of its profits to local schools. Visitors can pick from pre-prepared cupcakes, like the cream-filled peach cobbler (vanilla cake, cinnamon peach puree, brown sugar streusel, homemade whipped cream, sliced peach), or go the DIY route, choosing their own base and frosting, and finishing up at the Sprinkle Station. You can find Molly’s in New York, in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, and in two locations in Chicago.

16. BREDENBECK’S BAKERY & ICE CREAM PARLOR // PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Four Strawberry Champagne cupcakes from Bredenbeck's.
Courtesy Bredenbeck's

If you’re a Pennsylvania native, you may be familiar with this family-owned bakery, which was founded back in 1889. Bredenbeck’s is a popular choice when it comes to Philadelphia delicacies like butter cake and German cookies, and their cupcakes made fresh from scratch every day are a local favorite. They favor quality, not quantity, when it comes to their cupcake flavors: You'll find only a few varieties in the shop at a time, but they do rotate seasonal and holiday favorites. One of their most popular cupcakes is the Strawberry Champagne, a vanilla cake filled with strawberry champagne compote and topped in strawberry buttercream frosting.

17. TROPHY CUPCAKES AND PARTY // SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

The sign of the cupcake bakery Trophy Cupcakes and Party.
Jessica Spengler, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

At Trophy's five Seattle locations, customers can buy cupcakes from the case or pre-order a themed dozen. Try the “I Love the 80’s,” which features cupcakes topped with cassette tapes, roller skates, and rainbows. For a limited time, customers can pre-order the “Trophy’s 10th Birthday,” a funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, topped with a macaron, lollipop, marshmallow, meringue kiss, white chocolate-covered pretzel, animal cookies, cotton candy, donut holes, and Trophy’s own blue candies. Whew. At $12.50 a pop, they’re worth every penny.

18. HOUSE OF CUPCAKES // PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY

House of Cupcakes' red velvet cupcakes.
Courtesy House of Cupcakes

When House of Cupcakes won Cupcake Wars, the line of customers went out the door of their Princeton shop, and the bakery soon needed to expand. They opened two more New Jersey locations in East Brunswick and in Clifton, and in January 2018 they will be opening stores in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. They offer cupcake classes and parties where you can bake and decorate your own cupcakes. Every day they serve 65 different flavors, and owner Ruthie Bzdewka says that the Red Velvet is their most popular cupcake of them all. In addition to all those cupcakes, they also offer cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels. You can find their food truck traveling around New Jersey every weekend; check their Facebook page to find out where they will be.

19. SUGAR MAMA’S BAKESHOP // AUSTIN, TEXAS

The exterior of Sugar Mama's Bakery in Austin, Texas.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

Sugar Mama’s is owned by husband-and-wife team Olivia and Steve O’Neal. They have a long list of awards and accomplishments, including having made a birthday cake for rapper Kanye West. The owners use locally sourced and Fair Trade-certified ingredients to create a variety of delicious goodies—including 12 different flavors of cupcakes that change daily. If you’re a baklava fan, pick up Harlow’s Honey Baklava—a buttermilk honey cake with Round Rock honey filling and cinnamon buttercream frosting topped with a phyllo puff.

20. FROST CUPCAKE FACTORY // CAMPBELL, CALIFORNIA

A delicious-looking chocolate cupcake topped with shaved chocolate from Frost Cupcake Factory
Courtesy Frost Cupcake Factory

Frost Cupcake Factory sells a handpicked selection from 42 standard flavors throughout the week in addition to seasonal varieties. The two most popular are Rose Velvet and Burnt Almond, and they also offer cake pops, cupcake push pops, and mason jar cupcakes, in addition to other baked goods. Frost customizes cupcakes for corporate clients too; if you head out to a San Jose Sharks game, you may find them in the concession stands.

21. LOVE KUPCAKES // PORTLAND, MAINE

A plate of cupcakes from Love Kupcakes.
Courtesy Love Kupcakes

Love Kupcakes is a bakery and food truck based in Portland that strives to use sustainable practices and all-natural ingredients. They serve traditional, vegan, and gluten-free varieties of cupcakes in an array of sweet flavors like Strawberry Basil, Funfetti, and Snickerdoodle, and introduce seasonal options too. Pick up their best-seller, the Chocolate Sea-Salted Caramel, the next time you're in Maine. Look for their cupcake truck around town and at local festivals (follow them on social media for locations) or rent it for your wedding or special event.

22. WICKED GOOD CUPCAKES // BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Cupcakes in mason jars from Wicked Good Cupcakes.
Courtesy Wicked Good Cupcakes

Tracey Noonan and Danielle Vilagie are a mother-daughter dream team that started Wicked Good Cupcakes after taking cake decorating classes together. After getting requests to ship their cupcakes from their Cohasset, Massachusetts shop, they came up with the idea of putting the treats in mason jars to prolong their freshness and durability. They were featured on Shark Tank and teamed up with Kevin O’Leary to take their business to the next level—today, they're a super-successful gourmet online retailer. They have a variety of flavors, including Maple Bacon Whiskey and Sea Salted Caramel, that can be ordered online or found in their Boston-area bakery.

23. BLOOMING LOTUS // MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

A tray of Blooming Lotus cupcakes.
Courtesy of Blooming Lotus

If there is such thing as a healthy cupcake, Blooming Lotus makes it. This bakery is grain-, processed sugar-, dairy-, soy-, and egg-free, and the nut and seed flours they use are high in protein. (Basically, you can eat one of their cupcakes and pretend you’re eating a protein bar.) Blooming Lotus was started after the owner and her sister were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and they adopted restricted diets. Their baked goods have developed quite a following in stores around the Milwaukee area. They offer three flavors of cupcake: Chocolate Brownie with chocolate frosting; Carrot Cake with toffee frosting; and Spice Cake with toffee frosting.

24. JOZETTIE’S CUPCAKES // MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

A tray of cupcakes from JoZettie's Cupcakes.
Courtesy of JoZettie's Cupcakes

Everything made in JoZettie’s kitchen is made fresh and from scratch every day. The owner, Mrs. Ida, says she decided to open her shop when she walked by a vacant building with a “for rent” sign on it. Today, JoZettie’s has two locations in Montgomery, where customers can choose from a variety of unusual flavors, including Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Caramel Pecan Cheesecake. The bakery's best-selling yummies are Sweet Potato, Key Lime, Red Velvet, and Red Velvet Cheesecake, all topped with cream cheese icing. Follow the bakery on social media to discover the featured flavor of the day.

25. JONES BROS. CUPCAKES // OMAHA, NEBRASKA

A Jones Bros Sweet and Salty cupcake next to a box.
Zane Mulligan, Flickr // CC BY ND 2.0

Jones Bros. Cupcakes—a full bakery and ice cream shop—is a true family business: It's run by brothers Brad and Bill Jones, along with their parents, Jerry and Elizabeth. The shop offers a rotating variety of cupcake flavors as well as specials and seasonal tastes that pop up on the weekends. If you're visiting, try the best-selling Sweet and Salty, a chocolate cake filled with caramel and sea salt, then topped with chocolate buttercream and a caramel drizzle. Hit their drive-through window for extra-fast service.

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14 Fascinating Facts About Saturday Night Fever
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read! 

1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.

Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade. 

2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.

3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder. 

4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.

With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.

5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.

Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.


Paramount Pictures

First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.

7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.

Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)

Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. 

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 


Paramount Pictures

In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."

9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.

Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history. 

10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Paramount Pictures

Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work. 

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.

For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie. 

12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.

In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.  

13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.

Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque. 

14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.

Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.

In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fair in 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)

Additional sources:
John Badham DVD commentary
DVD featurettes

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