In many instances, the opening of a club leads to petitions and demonstrations from unhappy neighbors worrying about increased noise levels or vandalism. Quite the opposite is true of Backstage Café, a restaurant/club that is a key player in the revival of Wilmington, DE.

Backstage Café is located on the waterfront of downtown Wilmington, an area that is scheduled for further development. Located in a former generator factory, the restaurant occupies a dramatic, open space with ceilings as high as 35'. As its name suggests, show business is the venue's theme, with different areas devoted to theatre, film, and rock and roll. On the first floor, the bar area pays tribute to the theatre, with wall paintings depicting Broadway marquees and the club owner conducting an orchestra. According to Aidas Gimbutas, of Wilmington-based Main Light Industries, the LD on the project, “We have a custom-made Optikinetics triangular truss over the guitar-shaped bar, with PAR-16s attached. We lit the inside of the truss with PAR-36 units, in color. The triangular truss hangs from a 30" TTR folding truss that holds eight [High End Systems] Cyberlights®, some [Martin] MiniMACs and some custom-made [Altman] 360Qs.” To customize the latter units, he says, “We gutted the 360Qs and put in PAR-36 screw lamps, then added attachments — like half hats and full hats — to give them a theatrical flair.”

With the exception of the Trilight over the bar area, the 4'×4' pipe grid, for the lighting, on the first and second levels was installed by Rich Petkevis of RJ Enterprises, of Hammonton, NJ. Speaking of the project, he says, “By the time we were assigned to the project, everything had been sprayed with an expensive fire retardant coating; we were not allowed to remove it in order to weld support beams for some of the difficult long spans. The ducts and plumbing were all installed. I had to go in with my crew and basically build a lighting grid around everything you could imagine. But we got nice, clean runs; the guys who work for me are perfectionists.”

There's much more to the bar area, adds Gimbutas: “On one side of the room, there's a stage that's 40' wide and 8' deep, with a 12'×16' screen, with theatrical drape, on which they show films. Along the edge of the stage, we put 3" fresnels, facing out, to create a striplight look, with frosted gels.” The first floor's main dining area has 14' ceilings and a rock-and-roll theme; the lighting includes many more retrofitted 360Qs, plus R40 floodlights to highlight the scenic painting on the walls, and two MiniMACs placed in the restaurant's waiting area, with rotating gobos.

Upstairs on the mezzanine level, says Petkevis, is an extension of the dining area, this time with a film/television theme. “There's the jacket worn by Al Pacino in The Godfather,” he says, “plus some money used in [Brian DePalma's film] Scarface, in a glass case, as well as posters from The Sopranos, a door that says ‘Welcome to the Bada Bing Club,’ and a statue of Marilyn Monroe, with her skirt blowing up around her.” On the first floor, away from the excitement of the restaurant, he says, is “a room decorated with nothing but guitars, and a wall dedicated to the Beatles.” Other decorations include a 12' sculpture of Elvis and a poster of Jimi Hendrix holding his flaming guitar, which uses Le Flame fire effects from Le Maitre. Again, retrofitting was the key to the lighting in this room, with old Mole-Richardson studio fixtures retrofitted to provide coverage for the room. “We even took about 40 PAR-64 rock-and-roll cans,” says Gimbutas; “I ran them in series so they would just glow.”

There are other historic touches, elsewhere in the club, says Petkevis: “The DJ booth [on the first floor] has an old Ward Leonard resistance dimmer board behind it — Pete got it from Warner Bros. Studios. They hacked out the back, pulled out the guts, and flush-mounted it to the wall. Next to it is the ETC Sensor 96 dimmer rack.” As for control, Gimbutas says, “We went in with a [Flying Pig Systems] Wholehog® II for programming, and now we use the Cyberlight controller, and the [High End] Technobeam® controller for the Technobeams and Dataflashes® on the dance floor.” For the architectural lighting, he adds, “The ETC dimmers have remote panels and presets. We have a lunch look, a dinner look, and a cleanup look.” Other personnel on the project included Gimbutas' assistants Randy Mullican and Giovanni Cirani.

Overall, Backstage Café's flexibility may prove the key to its success. “It's a restaurant, a café, a nightclub,” says Petkevis. “It's a place that's alive, it's always changing,” adds Gimbutas. With luck, it'll help downtown Wilmington change for the better, too.