Peter Gatien's famed New York nightspot, housed in a former Episcopal church, has seen its second coming. After a two-year closing (the result of a much-publicized government drug probe of the club and its owner) the Limelight reopened its Gothic cathedral doors last December. With a new calling for New York nightlife--to bring the art world together with the city's club scene--the Limelight hopes to raise its vaulted roof for the next generation of club kids. A suitably redemptive tale for Gatien, who was acquitted of drug charges 10 months before the reopening, and for the club, which at the height of its blasphemous heyday allegedly hosted some of the unholiest happenings in town.
The new, improved Limelight aims at reinventing itself as "an entertainment and art complex" and hopes to play host to both the city's fledgling and established art communities while still drawing the far-reaching realms of the clubgoing world. To put the appropriate face on the new space, Gatien assembled a creative team to envision and execute a redesign that would embrace the church's original Gothic Revival architecture while incorporating the latest technology in revamped dance areas, lounges, and new gallery spaces.
The cast of creatives and their roles goes something like this. Interior designer Jane Millett of The Millett Design Group reconfigured and refurbished interiors with an eye on details and finishes. Artist and Alien creator H.R. Giger put a Species spin on the VIP room with support from Limelight in-house art director Richard Baron. Lighting director Arthur Weinstein and technical director Tom Walter revamped the club's illumination, working with lighting supplier Rick Ferrara of Excel Lighting Productions on the moving lights. Visual artist Travis Litz of ultravision added dimension to the main dance hall with a layered projection installation. Limelight director Irv Johnson, who also runs Gatien's other New York club, the Tunnel, more or less runs the show, mastering the events and people that inhabit the space. And sound designer Shawn Brophy pumped up the volume just enough to get the Limelight going without angering its noise-sensitive neighbors, who have complained about the club since its original opening in 1983. While a cleaned-up identity is a kinder, gentler way to reintroduce the Limelight to the neighborhood, the club's attempt at a new cultural depth opens a number of possibilities to mix it up for clubgoers come nightfall.
The new Limelight experience begins behind the velvet ropes, past the leather-coated bouncers at 660 Sixth Avenue and 20th Street in the redesigned entry lobby. Here original Gothic ceiling panels were refurbished and installed with pinspots. Lighting at the entrance is augmented with ETC Source Fours that point up, while the focal point is a series of videowalls, nine screens high by two screens wide, rescued from one of Gatien's former hotspots, the recently demolished Palladium. A means to showcase video art, the current installation cleverly creates a waterfall effect.
While video art is eye candy for the entry, multimedia art is housed in the next room, the vestibule/entry gallery. The first exhibit, a series of large-scale freestanding wall pieces, was moodily lit by Arthur Weinstein, who supervises the architectural lighting of the club. Weinstein, one of the fabled forefathers of New York nightlife (see "Night watch," page 50), has a solid (and storied) frame of reference for club lighting design, having owned and helped design some vanguard nightspots over the years including Hurrah, the predecessor to Studio 54, a notorious after-hours club called the Jefferson, and The World, which helped introduce house music to New York in the 80s.
He is just as well-versed in putting the light in the Limelight, serving as lighting director since 1990 when the club was redesigned by his wife Colleen Weinstein in an effort to draw more crowds. "I believe one of the intelligent lights that was out at the time was the [Martin] RoboScan 1016," Weinstein remembers. "They were pretty cool lights because you could name the programs. I had a lot of fun using them. Then someone came along with [High End Systems] Intellabeams(R), and we had some [High End Systems] Dataflashes(R)."
Fast-forward to the new main dance area, where the majority of the lighting equipment is from High End Systems. Supplied by Rick Ferrara of New York-based Excel Lighting Productions, which provides gear and service to many clubs around town including Twilo and Sound Factory, the system includes: 12 Technobeam(R) automated luminaires, eight Dataflashes, four Studio Color(R) automated wash luminaires, four Studio Spot(TM) automated luminaires (all from High End), and two Clay Paky Golden Scans which the club already had. Also from Excel is a Mobolazer laser system, a Jem 1500 heavy fogger for low-lying fog, a Leprecon dimming system, an NSI ML16 moving light controller for the Studio Spots, an Elektralite CP-10 controller for the Golden Scans, and High End controllers for the Technobeams, Dataflashes, and Studio Colors. "We supplied equipment, leased it to them, provided the tech support, and worked with Tom [Walter] on the design and installation of the automated lighting," says Ferrara.
According to Walter, the club "got tremendous support from the High End factory, and Rick from Excel was very helpful in the deal." Weinstein adds: "If you have a problem, you go to Rick and he sends guys down who know what they're doing. It's like having someone next door you can call if you need something. You don't have to think about it."
To incorporate the new lighting system into the club, Walter began by reconfiguring three Optikinetics Trilite moving trusses. "We originally had a triangle truss and the room was very cluttered, so we decided to go back to basics and clean up the entire ceiling, get rid of a lot of material like old cables, wires, and platforms, and accentuate the architecture of the building."
Walter streamlined the trussing and drew attention to the soaring 60'-high (18m) ceiling by creating (appropriately) a cross-shaped truss design over the dance floor and flying truss almost up to the roof over the stage area. "The trusses go up higher than they were before so the lights will have a much longer throw and create a more tantalizing effect," Walter explains. "There are other clubs that are very technology-oriented where you see a lot of trusses. That's fine because there is nothing to show off. At the Limelight it's more about the prestige of the architecture."
One architectural feature the lighting spotlights is the gorgeous stained glass window which is central to the main dance hall. "We have a Studio Spot programmed so that when it hits the window and you go outside it is a really cool effect," Walter explains. "We're blasting it through from the inside instead of lighting it from the outside, so when you see it from the street it's really impressive."
In terms of equipment, the idea was to marry old and new technology, augmenting the moving lights with additional PAR cans to fill the lofty heights of the cathedral. But Weinstein, who makes sure the overall lighting looks good on a nightly basis, said something was still missing. "No matter how many lights you have you need another element whether it's intelligent, traditional, or not," he explains. "There's a lot of cubic feet up there, a lot of dead space. That's why they brought in projections."
Enter visual designer Travis Litz and his company ultravision. An LA native, Litz recently went bicoastal, moving east to open a New York office devoted to visual design and lighting for clubs, concerts, and corporate events. Brought in by Made In England Promotions, who is in charge of Wednesday nights at the club, Litz showed some of his work, including a hologram-like projection of Yoda floating in a chandelier, to Gatien and company on a digital camcorder. "They loved it," says Litz. "They really had a lot of confidence in me and basically said what I did blew them away."
Crediting the in-house crew--Weinstein, Walter, and intelligent lighting programmer and technician Chris Angelis--as "amazingly helpful" in his process, Litz placed thirteen 16mm film projectors around the club on platforms painted silver to match the decor. His projection surfaces are a constellation of circular screens hanging above the main dance floor. The biggest screen is blue and designed to look "like the biggest planet or a sun," says Litz. "All of the little circular screens are randomly placed around the big sun."
Another projection surface at the Limelight, a Litz signature, is black netting which makes his projections look like hologram images. The projections themselves are culled from a library of over 1,000 images Litz has compiled over the years, from hologram logos for corporate clients to bizarre microscopic organisms and insects to beautiful flowers which he used for a recent installation at the Tunnel--and everything you can imagine in between.
At the Limelight, Litz wanted to appeal to a wide audience although he plans on changing the installation regularly and tailoring them for special events. "I know the Limelight gets a very varied crowd, so I wanted to put up a lot of interesting images that would appeal to all," Litz explains, adding that artist Susie Kim assisted during the initial days of installation. "So we've got Yoda and Buddha. We have an astronaut that's spinning around off a custom-made mirror that rotates it. I can change the angle so instead of him going in circles like a hologram in the middle of the air he actually goes all around the club. That's my favorite."
Then there's an eyeball, a planet morphing next to Yoda, and images from Hong Kong films video-mixed with words and surreal computer animation. And the artist is already experimenting with the spiritual resonance of the former Church of the Holy Communion. "There are going to be a lot of spiritual themes or eerie images that the architecture complements," says Litz, who boldly bounced between Heaven and Hell projecting a scene from the horror flick Hellraiser onto the stained glass window. "Anywhere else it wouldn't be as effective."
Moving on from the main dance area, a hallway lined with steel wainscoting and installed with dropped ceilings designed to display art leads into the former chapel which Millett reinvented as an Art Gallery lounge. She custom-designed chandeliers for the High End Trackspots with separate dimmable circuits to allow for gallery lighting. The overall vibe of the lounge is casual style established with wood details and comfortable banquettes. Art hangs on the walls, including a permanent light box display which Weinstein lit with his "new favorite color, Lee 071, Tokyo Blue."
An L-shaped bar designed by Millett with a glass top and water running underneath links the gallery to a small dance floor where the DJ ministers to the crowd from a hand-crafted pulpit that Millett had restored and moved above the bar area. According to Ferrara, this room is lit with eight High End Trackspots(R), an F-100(TM) fog generator, and a High End universal controller. There are also six ETC Source Fours for gallery lighting.
Upstairs, H.R. Giger created an inner sanctum of a VIP room in the former library. Assisted by Les Barany and in-house art director Baron, the Swiss futurist artist best-known for his creature creations in Alien and Species turned high ceiling beams into rib-like structures and added an ominous touch with organic art pieces. Adding to the otherworldly nature of it all, Weinstein lit the space using eight ETC Source Four jrs, 40 PAR-36s, and "a gobo of the creatures."
Those not fortunate enough for a VIP visit need only travel a staircase below for more dancing in "The Plaid Room." "The way the walls are painted it looks like plaid. It's a tiny dance room with a little mirror ball, a couple of pinspots, a DJ, couches, and a 70s flavor," says Walter.
Outside, Weinstein is responsible for lighting up the 19th-century facade, a well-known beacon on its stretch of Sixth Avenue. "Those are regular outdoor sodium lights," says Weinstein. "We have covers on them so you can gel them without seeing any tape."
While all is luminous outside with clubgoers once again lining the street to get in, inside the club is getting some of the spotlight with its fair share of celebs. And as promised the club hosts regular cultural events from art shows to performances by the QuintEssential Theatre Company, a resident theatre group. Plans are also in the works to make the club even more inviting. At presstime, a cafe designed by Richard Baron with lighting by Weinstein was under construction and an outdoor cafe is planned for the summer. "The outdoor cafe is being set up in conjunction with the cafe and kitchen downstairs," says Walter. "You are going to be able to go to a window and order food from a bar. At that point, the gallery will be open too. You'll be able to sit outside, get a cup of coffee, read a book, or go inside to the gallery or the cafe. We want it to be a people-friendly club, not the big scary monster that people make it out to be."
Neighbors and nightworld parishioners take note.
Arthur Weinstein is surrounded by the tools of his trade in his office at 660 Sixth Avenue. It's a chaotic pile-up of disco balls, PAR cans, gel swatches, and glittery scenic pieces from some party past--and his office goes by another name, the Limelight. From here Weinstein works his magic, conjuring up the lighting looks that set the mood for the landmark New York nightclub.
"Arthur has the touch," says Limelight TD Tom Walter, who works closely with Weinstein on the club lighting. "He's responsible for the way the club looks on the outside, the ambient lighting on the inside, the mood. Right when you walk into the cashier area, there's this vibe."
Becoming the resident lighting director/vibologist at the Limelight came to Weinstein after a lifetime working his way up in the club world. He digs through a little memorabilia to reveal a photo of the Limelight circa 1990 when his wife Colleen Weinstein redesigned the space and he came on as lighting director. But the LD's club career predates this, going back B.D.--before disco. "From the minute I could drive I would go into New York to all the clubs of the moment," says Weinstein, who grew up in New Jersey. "I would go by myself because I couldn't get any friends to go with me."
Always an independent spirit, Weinstein would revisit the New York club scene as a career a few years later. But first came the aborted attempts to make a living outside the fast lane. There were thoughts of becoming a pro baseball player, although he "couldn't take the team thing." Then came the thankless job of substitute teacher in Newark, NJ, during its turbulent days. "It was like the Wild West," he says.
Getting out of Dodge, Weinstein returned to the bright lights of the big city, but this time for good. He moved to New York when he was 22 and took a job doing silkscreening. "Little did I know this guy did silkscreening for Pace Galleries and all the top artists--Warhol, Chuck Close," he says. "It was pretty interesting."
But not interesting enough. Weinstein turned to fashion photography, and then, to make extra cash, he took a job as waiter at a new club on 43rd Street called Le Jardin. "The rest is history," says Weinstein, who has worked in the club business ever since. "I was a waiter for awhile, but then I got the bug to open my own club."
According to Weinstein, Hurrah, which he opened in November 1977 in a former garage on 62nd and Broadway, was the hottest club in New York for about eight months. It was at Hurrah that he started to work with his lighting mentor, Ralph Bisdale. "He was an absolute genius and I insisted he light Hurrah," he says.
Weinstein had Hurrah hopping, but he realized one of the secrets to his success: There was no competition. The competition, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, were planning to open a club in a former theatre on 54th Street. Weinstein actually prides himself on his inevitable defeat by the mother of all clubs, Studio 54. "It took them four months to wipe me out. I'm proud of that," he says. "They built a better mousetrap. No one had opened a club in a theatre space before, and they had moving lights. Not the moving lights that we have now, but truss that brought down the lights. The only things that moved were the police beacons. It was all traditional theatrical equipment, but it moved up and down. That was clever." (The clever lighting design at Studio 54 belonged to LDs Jules Fisher and Paul Marantz, who were recruited from Broadway. Ron Doud did the architectural lighting.)
Conceding defeat, Weinstein spent most of his time at the rival club. "I wasn't going down with the ship," he laughs. Although not too employable, Weinstein was undeterred and turned his apartment, a loft on 14th Street and also home to his wife and new baby Dahlia (now a part-timer at the Limelight coatcheck), into a notorious after-hours club called the Jefferson. "I got in a lot of trouble for that, but it was fun," he says.
Later came more clubs that Weinstein owned and lit, including the Continental on West 25th Street and The World, which opened in 1984 in a former Polish wedding chapel on Second Street and Avenue C.
When The World ended after a run which helped launch house music in New York, Weinstein worked with his wife to revamp Underground, a club on Union Square, an act they encored for Peter Gatien at the Limelight in 1990.
Almost a decade later, Weinstein is still lighting up the night, not only at the recently reopened Limelight, but the Tunnel and Life downtown, among others. And with club world credentials like his, who knows what lies on the horizon?
Owner Peter Gatien
Director Irv Johnson
Lighting Director Arthur Weinstein
Technical Director Tom Walter
Interior Designer Jane Millett, The Millett Design Group
VIP Room Design H.R. Giger
Visual Designer Travis Litz, ultravision
In-House Art Director Richard Baron
Sound Designer Shawn Brophy
Lighting Supplier Rick Ferrara, Excel Lighting Productions
Intelligent Lighting Programmer/Technician Chris Angelis
Selected Equipment List (12) High End Systems Technobeams (8) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000s (4) High End Systems Studio Colors (4) High End Systems Studio Spots (2) Clay Paky Golden Scans (1) Mobolazer laser system (1) Jem 1500 heavy fogger (1) Leprecon dimming system (1) NSI ML16 moving light controller (1) Elektralite CP-10 controller (4) High End controllers (8) High End Systems Trackspots (1) High End Systems F-100 fogger (12) ETC Source Fours (8) ETC Source Four jrs