Come Into The Cold


San Fran's Snodrift makes a chilly theme and modest but powerful systems into club lounge perfection

By Elisabeth Gibbons

San Francisco’s climate is characterized by mild, rainy winters, and cool, dry summers. In the winter months, temperatures rarely fall below freezing and snow is uncommon. But the people at design firm Fun Display have brought the spirit of a snowy winter to the industrial area of San Francisco and called it Snodrift. Created as a metropolitan take on the ski lodge, Snodrift brings its customers all the comforts needed to come in from the cold and get the blood pumping at night with a dance party that doesn’t end until six in the morning on the weekends.

After six months of preparation, Snodrift opened its doors in September 2000, in a somewhat remote location in San Francisco. Nestled between China Basin and the Potrero district, the club got its start in the height of the dot-com revolution. With so many startups from that era and in that area folding, Snodrift is still holding on with a tight grip, and packing in all different kinds of people. What’s made Snodrift so successful is certainly not its location, but its distinct décor and small but killer systems.

“The thing about this location is that it is not really any location at all. There’s no real neighborhood here yet; it’s a neutral area,” says Charles Doell, part owner of Snodrift and Fun Display. “We’re just a destination that people make a point to go to, because that’s where they want to go – not because it’s ‘in the neighborhood.’ Our initial business was very much a dot-com kind of thing; now it’s people that are more interested in what nights we’re throwing or what DJ we’re bringing in.”

A Retro-Swank Ski-Chalet
Think of Snodrift as part restaurant, part lounge and part club. It’s packaged as an Alpine ski chalet in a developing industrial neighborhood. “We sort of keyed off the exterior of the building, which is kind of cheesy, with a chalet look on the outside,” says Doell. “We used that as a point of departure for the whole concept of a mod ski lodge out in the middle of an industrial area . . . [it gives it] a roadside attraction quality.”

Snodrift is a re-created ski-lodge, incorporating vintage elements with modern odds and ends. The neo-alpine furnishings, back bars made from crushed ice, and the comfy fireside lounge area indicate that the designers at Fun Display put a lot of love into the space. They’ve paired the winter wonderland look of the lounge area with translucent orange walls that lead you to the back room where the main dancefloor is set. The ATM sign by the glowing orange bathroom reads COLD CASH, and the coasters are shaped like snowflakes. It’s always ski season at the bar, and they’ve got the ice mounds behind it packed with vodka bottles and glassware to prove it.

“It has some retro elements from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but it also has some kind of ‘neuvo-mod’ [elements] you’ve seen around in the past five years,” Doell says. “It’s got pieces from all different decades.” In the lounge, the main attraction, besides the statue of a deer resembling Bambi, is a large circular fireplace that dominates the room. It was inspired by the Pink Panther movies, and has seating areas all around it. Another feature is a large, curvy, snow-white front bar in padded vinyl with white stools to match. Flagstone walls, ski-pole stools, and the illuminated snow banks behind the bar help set the mellow, retro/mod mood. With a warm glow, the room makes you feel like you’re relaxing after a long day of skiing with the Brady Bunch.

Eating on the Dance Space
Moving from the front room to the back room, the hallway gives an interesting and kitschy transition. It is a long and curved corridor made out of orange glass. On one side, the glass is actually the wall for the bathrooms, so as you walk through you can see shadows of your fellow patrons powdering their noses. The other wall in the hallway is actually an orange mirror with a large slit in it so you can see into the kitchen. In other words, this hallway leaves little to the imagination.

The back room is the larger of the two, and is used as both a restaurant and a dancefloor. It’s decorated in metallic gray and frosted glass on the back wall, with a few booths and tables that are cleared later in the evening to make room for the dancefloor. The restaurant serves Wednesday through Saturday, and the tables are usually cleared out by 10pm, transforming the dining room into a booth-lined dancefloor.

This area is set to be much more dramatic than the front room. Doell describes it as “very mod, very clean.” At the rear of the room are two large glass walls, where the DJ booth is set up. Initially, a JBL sound system was installed, but the owners decided to bring that to the front room and bring in a more dramatic system for the back. They called in Meyer Sound to do the job. “Our back room is fairly hard. We were looking for a system that was warm enough, but also one that we could really push,” Doell says.

Though it is larger than the front room, Snodrift’s back room is a relatively compact dance space. So its system also needed to be smaller, with a lot of low end head room, versatility, and power. John Monitto, Meyer’s technical sales support manager, specified a system of four UPA-2P compact narrow coverage loudspeakers, two 650-P high power subwoofers, and two CP-10S tamper resistant parametric equalizers. “The trick is that the room is very reflective,” says Monitto, “and we wanted to keep the energy focused on the dance area – where people would be dancing – and out of the reflective areas of the room.” Monitto also says that the small loudspeakers were chosen primarily because of their size: “We couldn’t use anything that was too tall or too big in general, and [the UPAs] are a very good club system product.” The four single high power loudspeakers are hung on their sides in the four corners of the room. They then model-blocked the two double 18-inch subs in an area near an exit door. Slow And Cool, Hot And Crazy The small space also made it difficult to provide a dramatic lighting system, the biggest obstacle being the low ceilings. To accommodate, the owners created very long, deep depressions in the ceiling, and the lights were installed in these recesses. “The challenge was to make this room look very finished, but have enough dance effects without having a lot of junk hanging from the ceiling,” says lighting installer Richard Rutherford from E3 in California. Directly bolted to the depressions in the ceiling are three High End Systems Color Pro 250 HXs, three High End Systems Powerstar 150s, a Mobolazer RG50 laser with a graphic scanner and eight bounce mirrors, two Elation Professional Waterfalls, and a Program Sistems Stress – all controlled by an Elektralight CP10XT. Also included are two American DJ DMX dimmer Uni Packs, and an American DJ Volcano.

The two Waterfalls, which give a color wash effect, are placed behind the frosted glass at the end of the room. Mirrorballs behind the glass animate the colors. Though it isn’t a big system, Rutherford asserts that it gives a lot of great effects. “The trick here is programming, programming, programming,” he insists. “The room really hops. I’m amazed; with so few fixtures, they’re laid out in such a way that you can really make the room slow and cool, or hot and crazy. It works amazingly well for how simple it is.”

Doell says that they’ve been very happy with the small, simple, yet powerful systems they’ve installed, and have heard nothing but positive feedback. As a result of the new systems, they’ve been able to draw in bigger named talent – even though Snodrift doesn’t hold more than 700 or 800 people. “They [DJs] like the size, the feel, the connection with the crowd,” he says.

Aspen In Cali
Though it’s located in the middle of nowhere, Snodrift has become San Francisco’s diamond in the rough, thanks to careful planning and owners with a lot of club know-how. “It’s a fun little [place], and it’s managed well,” Rutherford says. “They had their thumb on the social pulse; it’s nice to see them doing good business in a good way.”

Snodrift is proving that hard work pays off: “The unique thing about [Snodrift] is that it’s not huge – we get like 700 people in here, but we’re in an interesting position in the club world right now,” explains Doell. “Most larger clubs are having trouble filling up. We’re actually getting very big DJs to come, because they like the smaller size, and we can pack this place. We’re making it financially viable.” Bringing a comfy ski-lodge to the industrial area of San Francisco would sound like a strange idea, but Snodrift is making it work. Patrons get the warmth and glow of a lodge in Aspen, but don’t need snow tires to get there.

Copyright 2002 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2002 TESTA Communications