Monday, July 30, 2007

Did Menage shoot itself in the foot?

In my New Year’s prediction last year, I said Menage would be the place to watch because it had changed so much since opening in 2004.

In 2006, it went from being a premier nightspot to adding a restaurant on the second floor – weird – to allowing black promoters to book prime weekend nights (often a sign of money problems).

The reported sale of Menage is dramatic considering the hype surrounding the club’s opening. Before The Forum opened, Menage was the hotness, with three levels, posh lounge areas and a giant slide.

But drama also surrounded Menage from the git-go.
Not long after opening, there was a flap between owner Stefan Latorre and well-known local DJ Niz -- Niz said he wasn't compensated for being a consultant for Menage, while Latorre said Niz never worked for the club. Niz's backers began an e-mail campaign urging people not to go there; the note also alleged that Latorre snubbed two owners of the trendsetting Cosmos Cafe who had stopped by Menage's grand opening to congratulate him.

In the spring of 2005, the club came under fire when it stopped playing hip-hop on Fridays, a night which had been drawing a predominately black crowd.

Then later that year came the biggest of the controversies: A promoter accused the club of racial bias after the cancellation of a party that drew mostly blacks. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee cleared the club of any wrongdoing.

Not long after that PR fiasco, Latorre denied rumors that he was trying to sell the club and he turned the second floor into the restaurant Belle’s BBQ.

He also began reaching out more to black promoters. In recent months, Adolph R. Shiver had begun hosting parties there featuring various rap artists. This is significant because historically, many white Charlotte club owners have allowed black promoters to host parties at their venues to raise cash; it happened at Time (which is now closed), Liquid Lounge, and Crush, which is now a mostly hip-hop club. (Insiders tell me the reason that financially strapped clubs do this is because blacks, especially young ones, spend loads of money at bars.)

The fall of Menage is unfortunate. Had it been able to thrive alongside The Forum, it would have made Charlotte an even bigger regional draw and strengthened our nightlife overall. It’s hard for a city with only one upscale dance club to be a real nightlife destination.
Latorre hasn't responded to an e-mail request confirming the sale of the club and on his decision to sell the venue.)

Do you think all of the negative incidents killed Menage, or is Charlotte not big enough for two huge dance clubs? Post your replies below.

Menage sold - surprise, surprise

Menage’s tumultuous ride as a premiere nightclub has ended. James Funderburk, who co-founded Tonic lounge, issued a press release today saying he and several partners have purchased Menage and Belle’s BBQ from Stefan Latorre. (Latorre has not responded to an e-mail request confirming the sale.)

Funderburk and his partners, who include Tonic’s Andre Araiz, won’t release any details about what they plan to do with the space. Their goal is to quench partiers' thirst for Tonic, a cool lounge at Fourth Street and Independence Boulevard that closed in 2005 because of construction near Central Piedmont Community College.

In an e-mail, Funderburk said “We envision a place that will become part of the fabric of Charlotte uptown culture, not just for nightlife, but for all times. A place to eat, a place to relax, a place to party, a place for people who love people.”

Although Funderburk and Araiz want to appeal to fans of Tonic, Funderburk said he won’t try to re-create Tonic.
“It existed in a certain time and place that could never be re-created. What we strive for now is a new dream that we know our friends and supporters will love.”

Thank goodness. Every new lounge owner says he wants to re-create Tonic’s vibe, but none have. What would you like to see Funderburk and his partners do with Menage? Post your replies below.