Is it possible that New York City nightlife has become a kinder, gentler scene? Spirit New York, Irish club impresario Robert Wootton's new hot spot (or rather “wellness center” as he prefers to call it) makes you wonder if the city's old school party monsters and the nightlife they lived are nearing extinction. The New Age of clubbing, according to the spiritually themed Wootten concept, is a health-conscious entertainment hybrid — part holistic center (can you say chakra balancing?), part performance space featuring live shows “celebrating the spirit” and, of course, what would a club be without the requisite pulsating dance floor?

Call it karma, but Wootten landed Spirit New York, modeled after his highly successful Dublin original, smack dab in a prime spot on West 27th Street, formerly the location of two legendary clubs, the original Sound Factory and Twilo. Transforming the two-story, 35,000-sq. ft. space required not only a $5-million renovation, but a spiritual reincarnation of sorts: feng shui experts were brought in to rebalance old energies. “A sage cleansing is supposed to banish the dark memories and spirits of clubs past,” explains lighting designer Guy Smith. “And it does take some work to banish those demons.”

Smith should know all about the good and bad vibrations that swirl around the club scene. Although his work includes corporate, theatre, and concert projects, he got his start in the club world, working his way up from light jockey during his college days to most recently designing Ageha, a multilevel nightspot in Tokyo. The LD credits Rick Ferrara, owner of lighting supplier Excel Lighting, for bringing him into the Spirit New York fold. “Rick gave me guidance with regard to the business, the client, and the venue,” says Smith who was conscientious about translating Wootten's concept into the lighting design.

“Robbie Wootton had very specific ideas about what he wanted in terms of the look and experience of the space,” he adds. “The space retains none of the characteristics of Twilo or Sound Factory. It's a very finished space. So part of the challenge was to bring out the architectural shape of the space, and make the center of the dance floor the focal point from all angles.”

Wootton's architectural concept was to divide the club into three zones: Mind, Soul and Body. For those seeking a refuge after throwing down on the dance floor, Mind is an all-night spa on the second floor that offers a menu of massage, chakra balancing, tarot card reading, and other alternative treatments. Once the spirit is fed, club-goers can satisfy their earthly hunger (in a healthful way) in the nearby Soul, a 180-seat all-organic restaurant. Seating for private or communal dining offers choice viewing of Body, the 10,000-square-foot dance floor below and adjacent performance stage for live shows, odes to the changing equinoxes and solstices conceived by artist/healer Gabrielle Roth.

“Robbie was looking for a highly flexible lighting system, which could be bright and dynamic, lend itself to telling the story of the music, as well as the story of the stage show,” explains Smith. “I wanted to create a symmetry so the dancers feel enveloped in light and the beams of light give the sense of dancing with the dancers. My inspiration was really my experience as a club goer in the mega-clubs of the early 90s when music was melodic and spiritual and lighting was exciting and mesmerizing.”

The LD found an indispensable tool for captivating the crowds in High End Systems DL1 digital light engine, a fixture he's had his eye on since he previewed it at LDI. The DL1's use at Spirit New York is its first US club application (it was first specified in Mexico), and as far as Smith is concerned the sky's the limit with the new technology. “The DL1 is the wave of the future, as are all the emulators and improvements in the technology to come,” he says. “It creates an entirely new technology with new possibilities. Anything can be a projection or an aerial effect now. The possibilities are no longer finite.”

Smith feels the DL1 could become an especially effective tool in clubs. “First, the DL1 is a video system which projects on any surface of the club, so any thematic bits of content can become part of the light show by grabbing the video in digital format and making it part of the Catalyst library,” he explains. “Suddenly, video can become timed perfectly to the light show, and in a nightclub (or any musical application), timing is everything. Now, lighting can become a more literal part of the show.

“Then, of course,” he continues, “it also becomes a lighting fixture which does aerial effects that no one has seen the likes of, quite frankly. Even the simplest patterns from its stock library are far beyond the capabilities of mechanical luminaires. Plus the video can become an aerial effect, and vice versa. That is a level of versatility that we've only dreamed of.”

Other fixtures, supplied by Excel Lighting, include four High End x.Spots®, which Smith used mostly as a static effect for washing the dance floor with rotating gobos, or for stage effects during the live show. Eight Studio Beams® are used for beam effects and color washes onstage. “I think this is the next big sidelight effect in the dance performance world,” says the LD. “It's a great color mixer, and very gentle with diffusion and beam shaping.”

The “workhorses” in Smith's bag of tricks include 19 High End Studio Spots® which because of their moving yoke allowed the LD to create patterned, colored washes almost anywhere in the space. Sixteen High End Trackspot® 2s are “fast enough to keep time with the dance music and they have rotating gobos to keep things interesting,” according to the LD. For the live show, he added six 36þ ETC Source Fours™ with Apollo patterns for static washes and six Source Four PARs for side light.

One of the challenges for the LD was the 30-foot high dance floor and the stepped mezzanine and restaurant balcony, which limited fixture placement. “It meant that there were no really long distances from a fixture to the center of the dance floor,” says Smith.

To create a sense of spaciousness, fixtures are tucked as far away from the dance floor as possible on Schedule 40 pipe, opting away from the industrial look of aluminum truss. Smith credits his crew, including lighting operator Patrick Rey and lighting assistant Evan Morris, in helping him to realize the final design.

After its official grand opening in February, Spirit New York is poised to enlighten the senses of club-goers interested in a new kind of nightlife experience that transcends the ordinary. And if Robert Wootton has his way, Manhattanites aren't the only ones who will be experiencing his mind-body-soul connection: his goal is to spread Spirit worldwide with clubs planned for Cape Town, Athens, Sydney, Shanghai, and Rio de Janeiro.


Robert Wootton

Jack Coogan, O.C.V. Architects

Lighting designer
Guy Smith

Lighting supplier
Excel Lighting

Lighting operator
Patrick Rey

Lighting assistant
Evan Morris

Equipment list:

1 Wholehog II console
1 High End Systems DL1 digital light engine and G5 Catalyst v3 media server
4 High End x.Spots w/lens kits
8 High End Studio Beams with clamps
16 High End Trackspot 2s
7 High End Studio Spot 575s w/clamps
12 High End Studio Spot 250s w/clamps
8 High End AF1000 strobes
6 36þ Source Fours with Apollo patterns
6 ETC Source Four PARs
2 High End F100 fog machines