After being closed for four years, Culture Club — New York City’s once-iconic ‘80s and ‘90s nightclub — is back. Robert Watman and Tim Ouellette are re-introducing their brand with a 16,000-square-foot, four-floor dance club on West 39th Street. Watman opens up about his vision, the space, programming and his new partner, Debbie Gibson.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): There’s a wealth of material to work with if you’re going to deck out a place with 1980s décor. How’d you decide what to use?
Watman: We have two floors which are very ‘80s, as in there’s literally a DeLorean coming out of the wall. A lot of the photos we’ve hung are of ‘80s stars who are still relevant. We have giant 10-foot-by-5-foot album covers from Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson and so on. We also have giant movie posters, like "Footloose" and "Wall Street." We have Pac-Man dots on the ground floor through the long entrance hallway to help get people flowing through the building. "867-5309" is written on the ceiling as well as the “I don’t know” "Fast Times [at Ridgemont High]" dialogue, and 99 red balloons painted. Each floor is lit very "Saturday Night Fever."
NCC: Do you worry about the younger market not getting a lot of those references?
Watman: A lot of kids in their 20s know who these people are, so its not a flashback, even though its their first time at an ‘80s-type nightclub. Songs from bands like Journey will be on, and for young people, it’s like an anthem. They all erupt. It’s fun to see.
NCC: You’re planning some live performances for customers.
Watman: We’ll have some ‘80s performances. Debbie Gibson is one of our regular performers, as well as our partner. She performed at our opening party. We’ll have "Rock of Ages" — the musical — that we’re doing cross promotion with. We’ll have mostly DJs and impersonators of Michael Jackson, Boy George and Lisa Lisa. There’ll be sing-a-longs, light-up dance floors and the like.
NCC: How are you planning on promoting Culture Club?
Watman: For promotions, people will reach out to us. The "Footloose" premiere will be held here and anytime something '80s happens, we’ll get involved. If anyone dresses in ‘80s attire, we’ll waive the $20-25 cover charge.
NCC: Will there be bottle service or cocktails?
Watman: We will have a limited bottle service, but we haven’t started with that yet. We have big menus of ‘80s-themed drinks like our Top Gun cocktail, which is Rockstar energy drink and Devotion vodka. There’s a Ronald Regan, which has a jellybean component, and there’s our Smirfarita, which is a blue margarita. As far as our ‘90s drinks, we have a Vanilla Ice, and the tag line for that is, “Word to your mother on a one-hit wonder.”
NCC: The staff uniforms are unique, right?
Watman: They were designed by Nanette Lepore and are very DayGlo green and orange. They’re super, super bright; you almost need sunglasses. With the black light on top, it really pops.
NCC: Why did Culture Club close the first go around? And why did you choose now to bring it back?
Watman: Culture Club closed originally because we sold the building it called home for eight years. We brought Culture Club back after an overwhelming grass-roots call from our fans via Facebook and the new thirst for the 1980s. We are a particular club that celebrates a true "let-your-hair-down" mentality and promotes having real fun.
NCC: What's the hardest thing about re-launching a club that has already been open?
Watman: With social media being such a big player today as opposed to three years ago, it has been easier re-launching our brand. The mere fact that you can literally have immediate contact with thousands and thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook makes announcing anything relevant.