Immaculate Conception

 

 

 

Sanctuary – Watch as this Pittsburgh church falls from holy grace to wicked nightclub.

By Daphne Carr

In the once-gritty industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pa., a metamorphosis has taken place. Two new stadiums, construction on an upcoming convention center, and a flourishing arts scene have prompted an upswing in entrepreneurship. And the nightclub industry is experiencing the biggest boom.
For the young and successful Clint Pohl, owner of Sanctuary, the competition is not local but national. His recently completed club offers the most attuned sound system and plushest setting to the city’s hottest, best-dressed and most famous residents. He has to be modest, though: This good Catholic boy is making his name in a converted 19th century brick church framed by the picturesque city hills. Everybody is watching him.

Sound
8 - Mach M129i two-way speakers
4 - Mach 182i subwoofers
4 - Yorkville AP404 power amps
2 - Denon DN-9000 dual CD players
2 - Vestax Pro Turntables
2 - Yorkville AP2020 power amps
2 - Yorkville A6040 power amps
1 - dbx 2231 31-band dual channel EQ and limiter
1 - Mach M20.06 controller
1 - Pioneer DJM-3000 mixer
1 - Yorkville E160P full range active cabinet (booth monitor)

Lighting/Special Effects
8 - Rose Brand scrims (customized)
6 - Martin Atomic 3000 strobes
6 - Martin MX-4 scanners
6 - Martin RoboColor Pro 400 profile washlights
4 - Martin RS-485 Optosplitter
4 - mirror balls (20-inch)
4 - Martin RoboScan Pro 918 scanners
4 - Martin MAC 250 profile spots
2 - Martin Wizard 250 effect lights
2 - Jem Magnum Pro2000 fog machines
1 - Martin MiniMAC profile
1 - Martin LightJockey control system (Club 2048)
1 - Martin 2532 Direct Access controller
1 - Martin 2518 DMX controller
1 - NSI DMX architectural 8-channel dimmer
1 - Trialite trussing (64 feet triangular)
1 - Flexilight Rope Light (1000 feet)

In the Beginning…
At 15, Pohl got off to an illustrious start in the business by washing dishes at a local restaurant. Eleven years and many restaurant and nightclub jobs later he owned Oregon, a thrice-failed sports bar that under his guidance became a local hotspot for live music. He next tried his hand at restaurateuring by opening Andorra, a five-star Italian restaurant in an exclusive suburb that quickly became the place for Pittsburgh’s who’s who.
“Owning a nightclub is what everyone who gets into this industry wants to do,” said Pohl, who upon the success of Andorra began to scout locations around the area for his own. Pohl put word of his search out and soon a friend said he knew of a place that was willing to sell, next to his dad’s parking garage – a Slovak Catholic church. The lot and church were in the Strip District, a hotbed of nighttime activity in Pittsburgh. Pohl brought in long time associate Ray Jackson, president and founder of Eastern Continental Lighting and Sound, to take sound pressure levels and check reverb time. Jackson was impressed with the space but cautious in his remarks. “I have a few competing clients in town so I have to be very fair, secret and unbiased with them to avoid problems,” he said.
Jackson’s company is responsible for the sound and lighting in nearly every major nightclub not just in the city, but the surrounding Pennsylvania and Ohio regions. In the industry since 1976, he started with the 2001 VIP Clubs of America chain, a company that built nightclubs in shopping centers across the country. Of the 38 in the franchises, he built 18 from hardware to furnishings, carpets to glassware. As a manager of the huge turnkey operation, he learned everything about the club business. “I think that makes a lot of people trust me because they know I was on the other side and I understand a club has to make money,” Jackson said.
With Jackson’s thumbs up and the realization of his once-in-a-lifetime chance, Pohl bought the church from the Catholic Diocese and began planning for the club that would become Sanctuary.

Desanctified
“Part of the bargain when the Diocese sold me the space was that I would not mock the church with the décor or anything. There’s still stained glass but it’s not religiously themed. After all the artifacts are gone, the church is desanctified,” Pohl said.
With a huge main floor, full kitchen, large basement area, vaulted ceilings and a choir box, Pohl and Felix Fukui of Fukui Architects had nearly 10,000 square feet of space to play with. Their major project was the transformation of the box into a full bar, which also had to anchor a wrap-around mezzanine that would reach over the pulpit where the DJ booth sits. “I wanted a mezzanine area where people who want to be at the club, but may not want to be in the mix, could enjoy themselves.”
Then Jackson came in and heard the words every sound and lighting outfitter loves. “Clint said to me, ‘I don’t want give you too much input into the sound. I want it to sound good and if there’s a choice between cheap and expensive, go with the expensive thing.’”
There was still a budget, of course, but this freedom gave Jackson room to play with a feature that intrigued him from day one – an octagonal cupola in the center of the church. Jackson built an eight-sided truss on which he would mount speakers and lights. He then began playing with the idea of motorized scrims dropping from the truss.
Nothing like what he needed existed on the market. Jackson’s solution was to buy a scrim motor and order fabric from theater industry supplier Rose Brand. “I built one scrim and tested it about 300 times to make sure the light came through and caught in the right way. Then I called and ordered seven more. This time I had them hem each one.”

…And It Was (Not Just) Good
On opening day, April 4, 2002, the scrims were just one of many subtle features in place to make Sanctuary the plushest of Pittsburgh clubs. The cupola truss was rigged with 18,000 watts of strobe power (six Martin Atomic 3000a), plus fog machines (two Jem MP2000s), color washes (six Martin Robo Color 400s) and other lights (a Martin Mini Mac Profiles, Wizard 250s, MX-4s, 918s and Mac 250s), which all made Jackson think momentarily about contacting the FAA about disrupting jet patterns: The light escaping the cupola could be seen all over the city.
Remarkably, the sound of Sanctuary’s intense system stays very well within the walls of this thick brick church. The brunt of power comes from eight medium-throw Mach 129I cabinets and four Mach 182 T subwoofers rigged to the truss. This is channeled onto the 1,750-square-foot dancefloor which, on any given weekend night, will be filled with nearly 700 revelers. The brilliant thing about the space, said Pohl, is “that even with a few hundred people it looks full, so you never get that terrible sense of being on the dancefloor all alone.”
The Diocese restrictions did not allow for religious iconography, certain types of fixtures or use of gold leaf, so Sanctuary went New York chic instead of monastery elegance in décor. The contrast is genius. Oranges, blues, and reds highlight architectural accents and a 22-foot high backlit plexiglass sculpture-like bar that casts a soft glow on the wall. An elevated nook, the former alter, features chic lounge chairs and tables as an unreserved oasis for weary dancers. Everything is sharp yet comfortable; clean, sophisticated, yet fun.
One of Sanctuary’s main attractions is this full-length bar – the only one in the Pittsburgh where customers are treated with enough respect to be given glassware instead of plastic. Young working professionals pony up four deep for a chance to order from the sleek tenders whom, Pohl said, are hired not specifically for their experience but more for their attitude. “I have people who come into the club and act rude to my bartenders to see how they react,” he said. “They’ll report back to me and then, if there was a problem, I go in and warn the employee. Maybe they served thousands of drinks that night and were only rude once, but it only takes that one wrong person.”
They have reason to want to keep their jobs. Because Sanctuary caters to an older, more sophisticated crowd and only resorts to drink specials on slow weekdays, the tenders get the best tips in the city. The roving waitresses, dressed as uniformed schoolgirls upon the suggestion of the general manager, make even better tips.


The Upward Spiral

An elaborate, half-spiral staircase with a dramatic sweep reaches up to the mezzanine. The upstairs, as prophesized by Pohl, is the refuge of the relaxed and features a smaller but amply stocked second bar. The long stretch of mezzanine walk is furnished with more comfy chairs and offers a direct view of the dancers and bar-goers below while escaping some of the speaker’s directional force. This is the place where private parties often occur – from birthdays to benefits – but most nights it’s an all-access area.
A small VIP section just beyond the bar is a source of contention for Pohl. He thinks private clubs are a thing of the past. Many local athletes and celebs come to the club and very inoften, he said, do they make the fuss to request special treatment. They’re there to mingle and dance, not to sit and talk to each other. The space is more often used for small parties. “People call up the club and say ‘Is there anywhere we can go?’ Pohl said. “I’ll give them the space for a few hours but I don’t charge them or anything.”


Booth Of The Times
Following the mezzanine to its end you’ll find the DJ booth, a wide, bridge-like space straddling the dancefloor and the altar/lounge area below. The booth is pure 21st century with Martin LightJockey Control System (Club 2048), a Martin 2518 72-Channel DMX controller and Martin 2532 Direct Access controller. Sound is boosted by Yorkville power amps (A2020s, A4040s, and 6040s) and maintained by a Mach 20.06 controller, and a dbx dual 31-band equalizer/limiter. For the sound and light programming, Jackson brought in his long time consultant Larry Picker from Martin Professional and Mach. Together they built a booth to satisfy all Pittsburgh’s DJ needs.
This means the two Vestax turntables stay tucked away in a cabinet. Jackson commented, “A lot of club owners here say, ‘I don’t want turntables in my club.’ Clubs used to have their own record collections and there used to be a Pittsburgh record pool, but now it’s just easier to get and carry CDs.”
Resident DJ Harold Purdy has been working with Jackson since the late ’70s and spins Top 40 dance, techno, and ’80s gems, most of which are culled from the club’s extensive Promo Only library stacked on a table behind the Denon
DN-D9000 dual CD player and Pioneer DJM-3000 mixer. Pohl said his trust in Harold means there are no booth rules, but that most local club owners do it differently. “They dictate to the DJs what they want to hear and when. I don’t. I like 90% of the stuff they play and I’m going to give them the freedom to do the rest.”
Lighting is often run by part-time Eastern Continental employee and up-and-coming DJ Mark Nath (DJ UhFx), a senior at University of Pittsburgh. The scrims can be dropped and a fogger unleashed for the nightly build-up to a dance remix of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” As long as the Diocese doesn’t outlaw aural sacrilege, this track will remain the Sanctuary crowd pleaser.

“A Club Mentality”
If Madonna or all those green apple martinis start to get to you, downstairs is the place to be. After descending a set of rough-and-ready industrial stairs, club-goers open the doors on the downstairs poolroom with two tables and two 32-inch television screens, cigarette machines and other non-footshaking amusements. There are not speakers downstairs, but Jackson might suggest some mid-range to temper the bass that thunders through the floors.
Just beyond this room are the bathrooms, and though this writer can only attest to half of the full experience, the incomplete score is still a 10. Clean, well-lit and with enough stalls so that there’s never a wait, the bathrooms are a strike of genius. Pohl said this fact, just as much as high-end speakers and chic stemware, makes the Sanctuary experience unique in Pittsburgh. “I have women coming up to me all the time saying, ‘Do you own this club?’ and I never know what they’re going to say so I just stand there. It’s always the same thing. ‘Well, your bathrooms are the greatest.’ That’s because they’re triple-coated. People do notice these things.”
Pohl says he’s carried his restaurant experience directly into the nightclub realm. “ I have a club mentality but a restaurant attitude,” he says. “I make sure my general manager knows everyone who comes in here regularly and he goes up and shakes their hands. I stay out of his way and trust his judgment. It’s just good business.”
And it seems business couldn’t be
better. With the stunning success of Sanctuary, he has “maybe a dozen” other projects currently in the works. “Probably two of which will actually happen,” he added.
Though a bit of a dreamer, his success has come not so much from prayer, but a true understanding of his market and ability to get the best out of everyone. And that more than anything is what’s made Sanctuary Pittsburgh’s premier nightlife haven.

Sanctuary Club
1620 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
www.sanctuarypittsburgh.com


 

     
Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications