Light up, get down



Chicago’s Ontourage houses the world’s most extensive LED installation (right into the furniture!) and its first JBL Dance 3 speaker system.

By Kerri Mason
Photos by Ray Paseka

       It hit the scene with a soft New Year’s opening and little fanfare, but Chicago’s Ontourage proved in its first 100 days that investing in sound and décor at the onset can result in bustling business soon after. A bi-level club/lounge in the revived River North area (and the former site of Dennis Rodman’s ill-fated Illusions), Ontourage had to set itself apart from the other upscale spots crowding its strip of Ontario Street – including Excalibur, White Star, Y Bar, and Sound-Bar. So management sprung for three decidedly not cheap, defining characteristics: The country’s first JBL Dance 3 speaker system, spec-ed and installed by Chicago fixture Windmiller Sound; an interior design concept customized for the space by Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based Hospitality Design Group; and a Color Kinetics LED presence so expansive that it practically defines the club’s theme. And slowly but surely, Chicago’s VIPs and wannabes crowded the 10,000-square-foot space, and made bottle service an unexpectedly strong facet of business.

Neutrals Beget Glow
       Ontourage’s two levels function like two separate venues: One a club space with a large dancefloor for the general population, and the other a plush ultra-lounge for super-VIPs, complete with a flagstone fireplace and wraparound couches. But Hospitality Design Group designer Ray Paseka, with project team members Jim Lintner and Dave McDonough, drew both floors to be equally post-mod and lavish, with the help of clubland’s hottest little light-up item, the LED. Where other ultra-lounges opt for simple lines and colored Plexiglas, Paseka gave Ontourage sweeping architectural shapes and a neutral color palette throughout. The whites, tans, and silvers work not on the basis of their own effect, but rather in how they allow the Color Kinetics LED fixtures, which highlight almost every curve and nook of the club, to weave their color-changing magic.
       “The Color Kinetics products were so interesting, and we had never actually used them before in a big application,” said Paseka. “So we thought this would be a great opportunity to try and do some unique things architecturally, and utilize that lighting to set a mood. [The LEDs] ended up guiding the whole interior: We used a lot of light reflective panels, wall surfaces, and laminates, knowing that Color Kinetics would probably light everything, with constantly changing tones and colors. We just wanted to run with that idea.”
       Ontourage has over 400 Color Kinetics fixtures sending its visitors on a kaleidoscopic trip, some of which are built into the furniture and walls. Hospitality Design custom fabricated “around 70%” of the interior structures at their shop offsite, and just “loaded them all in trucks and plugged them in.” This included traditional furniture from Fire Seating, which Hospitality also designs and fabricates, in addition to the LED-equipped pieces: The acrylic panels lining the bars, walls, and ceilings, lit by seamless runs of 12-inch iColor Coves; the tables made of smoked white, half-inch thick polycarbonite, (also embedded with Coves); the floor-to-ceiling Plexiglas columns bordering the main level bar (with ColorBurst 6 spotlights built in); and the three columns that flank the upper level bar (lit by ColorBlast 12 color changers).
       All of the dynamic lighting effects, including gradual color sweeps, chasing rainbows, and vivid fixed colors, are programmed with ColorPlay authoring software and stored on the iPlayer 2 playback device. Each individual fixture is self-addressable, and a simple Controller Keypad interface allows the manager or lighting operator to change the light show with the push of a button.
       Paseka says that the LEDs’ resulting effect is “very psychedelic. With all the action of the dancefloor lighting flying around, plus these slowly fading architectural colors, when you’re standing there talking to somebody, having a cocktail or just shooting the breeze, their faces are totally awash in color.”

Happy Blue-Lit Trails
       Apart from the glowing furniture, Paseka’s other design concept for the space was in its physical layout. “I personally love floor plans that have pathways, a trail mentality, where you can cruise through a space in different directions, and have lots of zones,” he says. “That way, you can hang out in this zone or that zone and feel comfortable to be there, because it doesn’t become complacent. If you try to do one big centerpiece, or one or two big banks or looks, you either got that look or you got nothing. But if you have a lot of nooks and areas that are cool-looking then it makes the venue a little more interesting. You never get too bored of it.”
       Paseka’s “trail” intoxicates immediately upon entrance, when guests are greeted by a two-story tubular rotunda with a spiral staircase, leading to the VIP level. This too is blinking with LED light (usually blue), making it “a little bit like Space Odyssey,” according to Paseka. He sees it as “the trail’s” point of origin: “To me, the mood when patrons walk in to that [foyer] is neutralizing. It’s so striking, the colors are so reflective, that they walk in and are like, Wow, what’s happening?’ So then if they go into that dancefloor area, or they make the climb and go up to the lounge floor level, they transition, going from one thing to the next. It’s putting them through visual moods.”
       And according to the local press, Paseka’s transitioning concept not only works – it’s noticeable to the layman too. Praising the upper level, New City Chicago scribe David Schneider writes: “This is Ontourage’s true strength: an intimate space that manages to capture, simultaneously, the atmosphere of a late-night basement club, and the ambience of 21st-century postmodernism. As if by the alchemy of the space itself, people become more welcoming, better-looking, and more fluid.”

Wide-Spread Lighting
With all those LEDs swelling and sweeping, lighting and sound designer and installer Howard Windmiller of Windmiller Sound, who has Tony Rullan’s Acapulco properties and many other Chicago club spaces to his credit, knew he needed subtle and appropriate dancefloor lighting, with a wide beam spread to accommodate Ontourage’s relatively low ceilings. He went shopping at LDI in November of 2003, and came away with Elation Professional’s Active Scan 250 and Active Wave 250 moving mirror fixtures, which he used around the sides of the dancefloor to contain the lighting within. “They’re not hugely expensive, they both have wide beam spread and nice optics, and the scans are very fast,” reports Windmiller. “A lot of the lights that Elation and American DJ are putting out are sensitive to the fact that they’re being used in smaller nightclubs, so they tailor them to have a wider beam spread. Even though Ontourage isn’t necessarily a small club, it only has 13- or 14-foot ceilings.” Windmiller is also very pleased with the durability of the fixtures: “The product has really come around with Elation. Since we put them in, we haven’t had one problem.”
       For more dancefloor action, Windmiller also sprung for four Pearl River Pilot 250’s (“similar to a Martin MAC 250+”), and six American DJ Accuscan 250’s, all with the same MSC 250 bulb as the Active fixtures.
Still, programming the LEDs and “conventional” disco lights to work harmoniously was tricky. “Originally, when we were doing blackouts, all the lights behind the bar that were lighting bottles were going out,” says Windmiller. “So we had to think about how we should work that. We couldn’t black out those lights, but maybe we could change the colors. It took a little finesse with the programming to get it together, but once we did we realized the best way to do things. Now when we do blackouts, we keep dark colors on the bottles.”

Custom, Without The Shop
When Windmiller turned his attention to Ontourage’s main dancefloor sound, he took into account the club’s neighboring competition, one of which was his own project. “Right now, Ontario Street is kind of happening. We put in a really nice Avalon system at Sound-Bar, and these guys just wanted to go with something different than what we did right across the street,” he says. “My JBL rep had been raving about the Dance 3 Series, and when I listened to it, it sounded really nice, so we went that route instead.”
       Before Dance 3, clubs that wanted JBL’s warm, full sound in a dance package had to go through the custom shop, but according to Windmiller, club-specific is the craze: “Most major dance clubs want some sort of dance club line speakers, that’s dedicated to dance clubs.”
       Plus, with all the focus on the interior, Ontourage needed speakers that wouldn’t take up too much floor space – and Dance 3 is a hang-able line array system, “basically a compact line array for lower ceilings,” says Windmiller. He hung the double 15-inch mid highs in the rectangular main room’s four corners, and JBL’s new “very nice sounding” CBT4 tweeter array (one with four neodymium ultra high frequency drivers) in the center. Four double 18-inch horn-loaded subs sit along one wall, to the right and left of the stage. Crown amps provide the power.
       “The whole idea was to take up as little space as possible and still have the effect of that super clear, crisp dancefloor,” says Windmiller. Plus, the Dance 3 allows him to direct sound onto the floor, and keep it away from the neighboring bar and lounge areas.              
       “When you step off the dancefloor, it really contains the sound well,” he says. “People can still have a conversation when in a booth right off it. I knew that was important to them.”

Phase Two
       While Ontourage is wisely sticking to local talent for now, like longtime crobar resident Psychobitch on ladies’ night Thursdays, Windmiller’s main DJ booth (there’s one on each floor, both conceived by Hospitality Design) is equipped with all the right stuff – three Technics turntables, a Pioneer DJM 3000 mixer, and two Pioneer CDJ-1000 MKII’s – for when the international jocks come calling. Management also reports plans to install 12 plasma screens inside, and color-changing fiber optics onto the building’s façade.
       Keep your eye on Ontourage to see the continued fruits of proper pre-opening investment and prep.

Copyright 2004 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2004 TESTA Communications