Club hubbub

Pub date December 10, 2008
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer


SONIC REDUCER You don’t have to look back very far to find those purple waves of nostalgia lapping at your heels — just take a glance at Beyoncé’s drippy gloss on Etta James in Cadillac Records. Knowles’ star power may have got the Chess Records story made, sorta, but isn’t Oakland homegirl Keyshia Cole better suited to play Fillmore-tough girl-gangster James? Still, sometimes the new is an improvement over the old, such as my fave iPhone toy-app, Brian Eno’s and Peter Chilvers’ music-making "Bloom." So preferable to Eno’s recent studio collabo with David Byrne, the app allows me to generate my own piano-note ambient beauties, which blossom and fade like ephemeral flowers.

And nostalgia was what washed over me when I dropped in on the first of San Francisco’s brave new clubs on a hectic holiday-soiree-strewn weekend — and I mean brave because these nightlife believers have to be to launch a nightspot during this economically rocky era. Oh, the shows and the tales surrounding the old Paradise Lounge! A particularly poignant yarn about Kiss’ Ace Frehley drowning his sorrows solo at the bar in the early ’90s came to mind while I checked out the venue’s latest iteration at 1501 Folsom ( Lo, few were waxing wistful on Friday night as the club’s holiday party went into overdrive in the ex-Above Paradise space. Raucous club-scene working stiffs scooped up Oola nibbles and $1 well drinks to what sounded like favela funk, and a solid lineup of DJs including Omar, Robot Hustle, and Safety Scissors was set to fill the decks serving the two dance floors. If these walls could talk, they’d ramble like the countercultured bastard offspring of Bucky Sinister and Penelope Houston.

The downstairs central bar, one of four throughout the club, has been done up with moodily futuristic LED lights. Outfitted with velvety booths, the mezzanine includes a crow’s-nest-style DJ booth that can move anywhere — all this after about eight months of permitting and remodeling, director of marketing Erik Lillquist told me. Since then the venue — subtly changed yet comfortingly the same with a certain scuffed, been-there-done-that quality — seems to be starting to establish its DJ-dominated identity: Honey Soundsystem holds down Sundays with special soirees planned a là the Dec. 20 date with Legowelt. "We’re taking the economy into consideration," said Lillquist, citing the club’s drink specials and discounted entries. "We’re just trying to create a good vibe and fit into the neighborhood, not be a velvet rope club."

That velvet rope, however, was in full effect — with nary a nostalgic wrinkle in the house — at ultra-lounge Infusion (, attached to Hotel Fusion at 140 Ellis and set for a grand opening New Year’s Eve. I got a sneak peek at the 6,000-square-foot, quasi-Chinese-themed crimson, ebony, amber, and ivory decor, dreamed up by Hong Kong designer Kinney Chan, with its tasteful but dramatic sectional lounge area beside a downlow DJ booth and elevated meditation pool. Columns dappled in scarlet light were swathed by electrical-volt-like geometric screens. A 2,000-square-foot lounge deeper within the club was lined with low couches and frosted glass columns — ready for a private party or fashion show. A fusion, true, of Pacific Rim exoticism and sleek contemporary design — and ultra with a capital "u": NYE VIP bottle service with a reserved couch, a bottle of Veuve bubbly and Ciroc vodka, and four tickets goes for, whoa, $950. Here’s hoping the life-sized animated interactive hologram is cooler than CNN’s election-day Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

On to Atmosphere ( at 447 Broadway, where I’m feeling no throwback pangs for the Amusement Center that once filled the now weathered-wood-brick-faux-grass lofty space. The Salon, a lady-pulling party with makeup demos and complimentary champagne, is on, and though Atmosphere appears to be ironing out a few kinks — the masseuse who was supposed to give gratis rubdowns was absent — the relatively new nightspot was popping with a diverse Asian, white, black, and brown crowd while DJ Solomon mashed up techno and New Order. As I inhaled a bubble or two, a clutch of women attempted to shake it on the dance floor as a growing cadre of guys looked on, seemingly terrified to leave their spot beside the glowing bar decorated with waterfall sculpture-paintings. Nostalgia? I felt like I was at a high school dance — c’mon, people, dance together. Still, the crowd outside — looking for fun amid the onetime Barbary rollercoaster of North Beach — and the flood of new faces pouring into Atmosphere made me give the space a double-take. Just when you relinquished the neighborhood to the tourists …


How to describe the comedy magic these men called Stella — Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain — make together? "It’s the nature of three friends who’ve been working together for 20 years now and our own slightly weird chemistry," Wain, 39, told me from Chicago, where the comedians, who met at NYU and found renown thanks to their online shorts, were readying to perform to a sold-out crowd. The sweet-tempered Wain recently gathered raves as the director-writer of Role Models, but now he was "kind of beyond belief," having driven late into the night in the freezing cold from Minneapolis. The payoff has been the shows, which include "silliness, laughing, some singing and dancing, a slide show, and audience participation," in addition to a new short about Showalter’s birthday. It seems like Stella is successfully persevering years after Comedy Central brought its series to a quick end. "On one hand I can’t blame them [for canceling the show] because it was really low-rated," said Wain. "But on the other hand I do blame them because it clearly had a vocal and obsessed following. Only after 10 episodes did we get a chance to figure out how it worked."

STELLA Fri/12, 8 p.m., $29.50. Wheeler Auditorium, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berk.