Want more luxury? Join the club…

The acid-house generation has been replaced by a breed of cocktail-swilling sophisticats, says Sarah Balmond

So there you are, sitting on custom-made embossed leather sofas, watching the ‘beautiful people’ drape themselves across a Swarovski crystal-encrusted bar, listening to live jazz, nibbling on some Asian-inspired snacks.

But this isn’t a restaurant, lounge or bar – it is a design template for the new nightclub. Gone are the warehouse venues and ‘bare-box’ industrial club formats. Clubbers now demand an altogether more luxurious and integrated experience, seeking out über-luxury venues with celebrity credibility, stand-out designs and members-only door policies.

The clubbing culture is experiencing a shift as one ‘acid-house’ generation grows up, to be replaced by another breed of party-goers who are more concerned with cocktails, decadence and red carpet bad behaviour.

In turn, developers and designers are responding to this, dreaming up briefs that are increasingly innovative and extravagant, but, above all, site-specific, creating interiors that shun the identikit club-look and focus on unique concepts and ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. Divisions between restaurants, bars and clubs are eroding – likely to be accelerated by the recently passed Licensing Act (DW 17 February) – and it is this dovetailing of leisure experiences that is defining the current club format and setting a trend for future start-up ventures.

Nobu, for example, long heralded as the mother of all trendy London hot-spots, is planning to open a ‘club version’ of its establishment, Nobutoo, at a former private members establishment in Mayfair (DW 17 February). Designed by David Collins Architecture & Design, it will combine a restaurant and sushi bar, lounge bar and dancefloor. Sources suggest there may be also be a private member’s dining club element.

Isometrix is designing the lighting for Nobutoo. Senior lighting consultant Gerardo Olvera says there is a growing trend for club designs to be more ‘exuberant, mysterious, exotic’, with innovative lighting solutions complementing the space. Minimalism, he argues, is dying, as clubs become more of ‘a fashion statement, with a trend for chic and sleek’ formats.

Kabaret’s Prophecy, the London nightclub owned by Shim Shad Khalid and also designed by David Collins, is a case in point. Its extravagant interiors, featuring a digital ‘musical’ wall that displays 3D logos, graphics and video content created by United Visual Artists, have earned it a reputation as one of the world’s leading clubs (DW 10 June 2003). It too, however, is planning to ‘up the ante’ and introduce a lounge bar serving ‘luxury comfort food’, new opening hours and a membership scheme.

‘There was a dem-and for food and early drinks, so this was the next logical stage,’ adds a spokeswoman for the club. The lounge will open from 7 March. She also confirms Shim Shad Khalid has an ‘absolute intention’ of developing another venue, possibly in the US, but is not yet looking at sites.

Developer Unicorn City was behind the re-launch of Café De Paris in the 1990s. It brought the concept of a ‘superclub’ to the high-style end of the market, ushering in a new host of clubs that successfully competed against well-established flagships such as Ministry of Sound.

Jamie Lorenz, director at Unicorn City, says, ‘Too many operators tried to copy what we had done without the passion, understanding and, crucially, without the timing.’ However, he is hoping to create something exciting and different again, with his latest venture, the revamp of the famous London nightclub Stork Rooms, located on Swallow Street.

The company will transform the venue into a ‘supper club’ and has appointed Blacksheep to draw up the interiors, which will take its influence from the 1950s speak-easy dance clubs, offering customers a mixed experience of live music and food. The existing separate ground and lower-ground spaces will be amalgamated into one 465m2 site and the concept will be ‘high-octane glamour’ with rich, dark, sensuous materials and mood lighting.

Lorenz wants Stork Rooms to ‘re-introduce a genuine sense of experience to West End nightlife’.

He explains, ‘The West End is overpopulated with too many venues that, in many cases, have an unimaginative approach to what they offer. Going out should be about unwinding, socialising and enjoying the finer things in life – remarkably these principles are being neglected more and more.

‘Too many people make the mistake of thinking that a refurb and celebrity-packed opening will lead to longevity, forsaking the basics and attention to detail,’ adds Lorenz.

Tim Mutton, director at Blacksheep, has worked on many club design projects, including refurbishing the Ministry of Sound in 1998. He believes there is now a subtlety of detailing present in club design, as well as a need to create ‘bold, good’ statements.

‘There is a move away from the superclub to more boutique, tailored venues with many different elements. Clubs get hammered by the crowd, so traditionally design was very basic, but this is changing,’ he explains.

However, good, functional design must still win out over fashion trends. Mutton stresses the need to ponder, ‘Is the bar at the right height, can you get a drink easily, are there views, are the chairs and tables comfortable and in a good position for talking or people watching? Usability is very important. The space must take this rationale on board,’ he says.

Club formats will continue to evolve as long as the crowd continues to party. The design sector is undeniably playing an increasingly important role in this, spearheading a cultural and aesthetic revolution for a future generation of clubbers.

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