So last month I jumped at the chance to live it up on the other side of the red rope at the grand reopening of Tabú, the newly swank club located above the even swankier Diamond Cabaret, 1222 Glenarm Place. Over the past few years, this space has cycled through two incarnations: Tabú and Alley Cat, its original identity that was briefly revived last fall for promoter Kevin Larson's erotically charged Saturday-night theme parties. But now, after a posh paint job and the installation of some laser lighting, the space is strictly Tabú.
"It needed a new facelift, a new direction," says Akio, the venue's singularly named general manager. "Some things weren't happening or they were starting to disintegrate, so we're revamping it via the change in the night, change in the format, change in the DJs, change in some of the promoters, just pulling things back so we kind of have a handle on it and a direction on it."
As I headed up the stairs in the direction of the second-floor Tabú, I read off a Lutheran-like proclamation of dress-code taboos. In addition to the usual injunctions against gang-related dress and sports gear, the lengthy list of no-nos includes such advisories as "No warm-ups or work-out apparel admitted," "No sagging/creased Dockers/Dickies" and "Non-hemmed skirts must be tucked in."
That last dictate didn't make much sense -- tucked in where? "I may probably take that sign down," Akio says. "It's too specific. There's so much fashion that you can't list it all. Basically, it's either 'dress to impress' or fashionable."
Fortunately, Scout and friends -- including the Lights, a Chicago-based indie band in town for a few shows -- were decked out in our finest dirty-rocker wear, which, thanks to the Strokes, is not only socially acceptable but perversely thought of as being in vogue. We were seated in the middle of the glitzy and oh-so-guarded VIP room, and immediately swarmed by eager servers and hosts offering us drinks and lighting our cigarettes. Yes, we were smoking indoors: Tabú, like Paris Wine Bar, still condones nicotine-sucking habits, because the owners believe the bar meets the tobacco-revenue minimum that qualifies for a legal loophole.
Everyone was so nice, we were almost uncomfortable. The ashtrays were cleaned out every two minutes; empty glasses were cleared away before the ice had a chance to melt; employees hankered to make small talk. And when we danced -- badly -- to the Top 40 mash-ups, no one glared with judging eyes; even the strippers from a rival club at the next booth seemed a bit overly friendly.
"Every club -- whether it's here or Miami or New York or L.A. -- they offer the same thing," Akio explains. "You have a VIP room, you usually have bangin' music, and they serve drinks. Some have extravagant live shows, some don't. But if you set all that aside, what really makes people come back and enjoy your establishment is the ambience and the staff.
"It's the concierge mentality where you know people by name, you're shaking hands, you're saying hello, you're saying, 'Thank you for coming down,'" he continues. "And that all starts from the door to the waitress to the bartenders to myself. I like to know who's in my club. Shaking hands and making babies smile -- that's what they call it. That's a forgotten thing. You've got people who are stuck up or think they are above everything; they forget to appreciate the actual customers who pay them and make them a living."
Oh, right: Those people are called assholes.
Fat Tuesday comes but once a year (and even that may be too much), and the little guys are making big plans.This coming Tuesday, the Oriental Theater will host a Mardi Gras-style East Meets West launch party to promote the art of Southern crunk and its newfound alliance with Jay Bianchi, owner of Quixote's, Cervantes', Dulcinea's and Sancho's Broken Arrow. The partnership between Bianchi's empire and the Oriental still keeps the booking for both in-house, but will allow the promoters access to each other's venues for future collaborations.
"Considering the other powerhouses in town -- you know, AEG and Live Nation -- it makes more sense for us to team up together when we go for national bands," explains Oriental booking manager Dewey Moffitt. "That way the ticket price doesn't go up, and it may come down a little bit, which helps the consumer."
It also means cross-promotion for upcoming events and -- as another indie promoter, Sodajerk Presents, has proven with its occasional hardcore show at Cervantes' -- an interesting mix of the Oriental's alt-rocker fare with Bianchi's Dead-friendly following. "It has the potential for the indie and jam scenes to reach a new level of community," notes Oriental owner Scott LaBarbera.
"Competition is good," Moffitt adds, "but a lot of times, too much competition spreads people too thin. This is a perfect example of independent promoters who are struggling, and now we have a chance to line up together and be more successful."
East Meets West will feature live music by the Clumsy Lovers, a Canadian bluegrass band, and Harmonious Junk-ie Damon Wood. Peep www.theorientaltheater.com or call 303-455-2124 for more information.