Dragonfly ( Harrisburg, PA )



Can re-formatting revive the city’s biggest club?.

Dragonfly has undergone quite a few changes since we reported on the beauty of its design in our LOOK section last year. Located in the heart of downtown Harrisburg, Dragonfly first opened in April 2002 with an all-dance format, and was a major force in the revitalization of the formerly-deserted Second Street corridor. As time went on, the club attempted to capture more market share by incorporating mainstream and hip-hop formats and failed. By mid 2004, the club numbers were suffering.

In early 2005, the owner undertook a massive image rebuilding project, ripping out the prior formats and residents by the roots. The basement was excavated into a third level, market research was done, and new formats were added. The now 18,000-square-foot three-level venue has moved back to its origin by catering to niche markets - but do the Stalkers think it will work this time?

Stalker #1
Back in the day you could find me at Dragonfly every single night, enjoying the club’s trendy crowds and all-dance formats. Then they suddenly dropped dance music entirely and I stopped going. Over the last year it seems like the club has changed nights and formats a few dozen times, and none of it seemed to make any difference. Tired of the attitude problems at some of the other clubs in the area, I decided to give the Fly one more shot.

We went there Saturday night, camera in tow. With very well-done subway art covering every inch of wallspace, 1970s black-and-white TVs showing static and 70s TV cop shows, and vintage (working!) games like Space Invaders, Dragonfly’s lower level, The District, is a really gritty, underground environment. Add the downtempo and ambient music, and the contrast is amazing. I literally climbed up onto one of the oversized couches, struck up a few conversations, and told the guys to come back for me at 2:00 am. I had found my new home!

Stalker #2
Dragonfly used to be the club in town, but with so many changes in such a short period of time, I had my doubts about their latest format of the week. The last time I was there, The District had just opened to a very ugly crowd, and I wasn’t expecting much better this time. We rolled in a little after 11, paid our $7 cover, and headed inside. The ground floor is a long, narrow, dancehall-like layout with an eight-foot high DJ booth and raised platforms at one end, a long bar down the entire side, and a large stage with multi-tiered VIP seating. Service at the bar was quick, prices were on the cheap side, and the overall layout was well-done. My biggest peeve at a club is when I have to cut through a packed dancefloor just to reach the bar, restrooms, et cetera, but that wasn’t a problem at all. DJ Herk was spinning hip-hop with a funky edge, and I’m pretty sure that I heard some Baltimore house mixed in as the night progressed.

We took a trip down to the basement level to check out The District, and it was not at all what I expected. It’s billed as a club within a club, but it was more like a private room. In fact, the overall vibe I got was that I was at someone’s house party. The room was packed with a crowd of about 150. Stalker #1 wound up spending the rest of the night down there, and I can’t say I blame her. DJ Ill Cosby was laying down a very chill soundtrack to the night. Harrisburg recently lost the closest thing we had to an ultra-lounge with the closing of another venue (which they turned it into a beach club - thanks guys, real fresh). It looks like The District is poised to pick up that crowd and run with it.

The second floor was a different story: Mainstream hip-hop until the last 20 minutes, not my format of choice for clubbing. Ordinarily I wouldn’t give a mainstream-hip-hop club a second thought, but resident DJ Smooth did a good job of keeping the crowd energized. I was blown away when one of the last songs was Percolator, but the crowd loved it. My only complaint was that the second floor appeared to be at capacity, so getting around was tough. But the bartenders did an excellent job of keeping the drinks flowing, and the floor has enough recessed nooks that we were able to step out of the crowd when we wanted to.

Stalker #3
I was really sad when Dragonfly got rid of their last remaining dance night a few months back, when former resident DJ Andy Vicious left the club. Between that and the abysmal conversion of downtown’s best martini lounge into a tacky beach club (1988 called...), it really started to feel like downtown Harrisburg had become ordinary. Nothing special. Vanilla.

We rolled up to the big white building, paid our cover, and went into: 21 Martin Professional MX-4s, four MX-10s, four MAC 300s, three Atomic 3000s, four CX-4s, plus JBL Pro mains and subs, and QSC amps, all done by ESG of Allentown, Penn. (I’m the nerd of the group; I notice these things). It’s too bad the club doesn’t use their power for good (trance and d‘n’b) instead of evil (anything else), but that seems to be the trend pretty much everywhere these days.

We lost Stalker #1 to The District downstairs early on, but that just meant she wouldn’t be mooching drinks off me all night! Dragonfly has always taken a while to fill up, probably because it’s ridiculously huge. Their capacity is around 1,500, making it the biggest club in the city. I think it’s interesting that when Dragonfly first opened and played nothing but dance music, they were easily the most popular club around. When they started to go into a more mainstream format, their crowds really thinned out. Now that they’re going back to serving niche markets (every Friday they have a wildly popular Latino night on the first and second floors, and live bands in The District), they’re really gaining ground. What does that tell you?


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Copyright 2006 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2006 TESTA Communications