Visitors to AV Hospitality’s bohemian rhapsody of a Los Angeles nightclub may need to do a double take: One side is all medieval madness while the other goes completely for baroque. “It’s literally 17th-century baroque meets 20th-century Hollywood; it’s dark, sexy, but all the theatrical elements keep it interesting,” says Tosh Berman, who, along with designer Davis Krumins, helped turn the historic 1918 Hollywood dive bar into the center of L.A. cool this past summer. Its decor includes heavy drapes, Russian crystal chandeliers, and tufted leather banquettes and walls adorned with Renaissance-inspired portraits of men in ruff-collared shirts that ever-so-slowly move to gaze about their inexplicable surroundings. “We took 60-inch LCD frames and flipped them vertically (like hanging portraits) and then built in a computer system to create moving artwork,” offers Berman, who says there is nothing worse than being the only one in a nightclub when it opens at 10 p.m. “I wanted to engage the client in a different way, so whether it’s empty or packed there is something to look at, or, in this case, something looking at them,” he says.
Although the food, drink, and camaraderie may still be the primary reasons for venturing out at night, these days hospitality designers and architects are making it more about the visual, and sensory, experience you have while you’re inside. “There is a ‘wow’ factor that needs to happen without being too Las Vegas, not that there is anything wrong with Las Vegas,” says Miami-based designer Sam Robin, who recently completed Bianca, the new signature restaurant at the Morgans Hotel Group’s Delano in South Beach. “I’m not so big on themey or trendy [designs] because they can quickly date a room,” she says.
Design tricks and thrills can also be high powered and super charged, like at 1 OAK, the new Mirage Resort and Casino bar in Las Vegas designed by Alessandro Munge (of Toronto-based Munge Leung) and managed by Nevada-based The Light Group. Munge reached out to artist Roy Nachum to create a series of esoteric murals on the nightclub’s walls surrounding overscaled leather banquette seating more synonymous with a private 747 aircraft than a Las Vegas lounge. Only in this case you’re responsible for your own takeoffs and landings.
Making a spectacle out of a restaurant or nightclub is no easy task; just ask designer David Rockwell, who even wrote a book on the subject (Spectacle) in 2006. Since then the New York-based architect’s passion for theater has informed dozens of his restaurant and nightclub projects, including the new W Paris-Opéra Lounge, the W Hotel’s first project in France. Rockwell Group Europe, which is based in Madrid, led the design efforts for the lounge. Diego Gronda, creative director for RGe, describes the vibrancy of the space, which has been created by an oversized undulating wall of light − “The Spark,” as the designer calls it — weaving throughout the lounge, illuminating every room with “a pattern of dots that glow with abstract pulsing clouds of light.” Sounds a bit spacey, but the effect is so subdued you hardly notice yourself seemingly floating on air. On the other hand, at OZONE, designer Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall’s new bar/lounge on the top floor of The Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong (considered the highest bar in the world), you literally are towering over the bright lights of the big city. However, what Katayama calls his “edenic experiment,” including a room covered in black-faceted marble floors, cascading crystal-drip chandeliers, and ethereal-blue lighting, seems to suggest a deep-sea adventure without ever taking the plunge.