I’ve had this my mind for a while: I spend / used to spend a lot of time in nightclubs. Some of those clubs are good, and some are bad. One of the deeply underrated factors in making a good club is the layout: given a certain space, where do you put the bar, the DJ booth, the washrooms, and so on?
I’m nothing like an architect, but I’ve clocked a lot of hours people-watching in clubs, and some clubs work better than others. That, of course, has much to do with the music, the staff, the sound, the drink prices, and so on…but sometimes, the physical reality of your room leaps up and bites you in the ass. This post is about that physical reality.
Clubs with stairs are better.
This is final wisdom, almost indisputable. Stairs upon entrance, either up or down, provide a sense of transportation away from the mundane, weekday world. If you can’t do stairs, you need to do something to provide the same distance from reality. A classic is to enter, turn right, and then turn left. Lick, part of the old Lotus Hotel in Vancouver, did this in spades: you had to turn about 170 degrees one way, pass through a thin passage, and then turn back the other way.
A notable exception to this rule is a place called ZuZu, in Boston: ZuZu is usually a restaurant, and has a simple glass door that walks you straight into the club. Even worse, it has glass windows, and yet worse still, it opens them wide in the summer to keep the place cool. ZuZu, however, gets away with this by hosting a just ridiculous soul / funk dance party every Saturday night: it’s impossible to walk by it without seeing / smelling / feeling the party. If it was any less ridiculous, it wouldn’t work: nothing is quite as sad as ‘normals’ looking into a party that is merely mediocre (This, of course, speaks to a more important lesson: a great party trumps everything else).
The bar is orthogonal to itself.
Lucky Bar, in Victoria, is a great club, but it is long and thin. The bar, naturally, runs parallel to the long wall. But us orderly Canadians line up at ninety degrees to the bar. This leads to hellacious traffic jams once the room gets full. In Lucky’s defense, there’s no other way to do it in the space that they have. Hush, also in Victoria (and also a great club), does this better: the bar line stretches out behind the dancefloor, providing a sort of natural firebreak between the dancefloor and the booths.
A bad example, however, is a place called the Middlesex Lounge, in Boston. Their room is a cube, with the bar along one side. However, the DJ booth is in a corner adjacent to the bar. Thus, their bar line can actually interfere with the dancefloor. This is the worst of all possible sins, by a long shot: selling alcohol is actually secondary to keeping the floor pumping…because if people are dancing, they’ll stay and drink more, instead of having one drink, realizing that it’s a shitty party, and leave.
Dancefloors project out from DJs.
For reasons known only to each of us, it turns out that most of us dance towards the DJ booth. This means that you cannot hide your DJs in a back corner and expected people to watch the go-go girls at the front. Some will, for sure: but most will cluster to the person doing the selecting. This should be obvious, and in most places it is, and is respected (Watergate, in Berlin, just nails this, in both rooms). The sanctity of the dancefloor really can’t be stressed enough. If that’s done right, other things tend to take care of themselves. Some exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions are:
Berghain, Berlin. Yep, the main room isn’t perfect (and neither is Panorama): the DJ booth is off-center, leading to some traffic interference from the bar on the right. However, live acts play centered, which works perfectly. Berghain is also so big that it doesn’t matter that much.
Middlesex, Boston. It turns out that if you put your DJ booth in a corner beside the washrooms and the bar and the entrance to the kitchens (which often still have LIGHTS on!), you totally ruin the party that happens in front of it, and this breaks up the rest of the party.
ZuZu, Boston. ZuZu’s booth is also beside the entrance to the washrooms. Luckily for ZuZu, it turns out that if you pack your bar to the gills, many of these issues go out the window. ZuZu’s washroom entrance is also at 180 degrees to the booth, rather than 90, like Middlesex’s.
What about the washrooms?
Washrooms are traffic, which, as has been discussed, can’t get in the way of the dancefloor (and really shouldn’t get in the way of the bar line). Washrooms are also generally well-lit, which tends to let scary, bright lights into the netherworld of the club. The instinct, then, is to put them as far away from everything as possible. This isn’t a bad idea, but washrooms also provide other features other than elimination: you can primp, do drugs, gossip/scheme, have sex, etc. Unless your club provides purpose-built spaces for these activities, you don’t want them too far from the action of the dancefloor.
Lotus, in Vancouver, put them on the far side of the bar from the dancefloor: good separation, but also closer to reality. Hush has the women’s washroom hidden just behind the DJ booth, and there’s a side-path that means you can get in /out without interfering with the dancefloor. Lucky has two sets: one up some stairs and away from everything, and one lurking innocently off the back of the dancefloor, near the bar. Kleine Reise, in Berlin, sets theirs beyond the dancefloor, leading deeper into the mist, as it were. I leave it as an exercise for the student to tell me which of these spaces sees the most extracurricular use.
I am sure there are many more things to be thought of: a discussion of vertical height in clubs would take me at least as long, for example, as would the above-mentioned “purpose-built” spaces for chilling out, making out and so on. These ones cover the highlights, especially the fact that it’s the dancefloor, and it’s the party, and everything else is secondary to those things.