White and colored light highlights edgy but elegant photography.
The world's first video/biker bar.
By Justin Hampton
Photos by Frank Thomas
D.C. nightlife impresario Michael Romeo treats every club concept as he would his child, which means he wants them all to play nice with each other in the open market. But, of course, one has to expect a reasonable degree of bad behavior from his brand-new rock ‘n’ roll biker-themed VJ bar Tattoo, which opened last December directly across from his Lotus Lounge on K Street, and just a short walk from 12,000-square-foot dance club Fur.
“Fur, to me, is the mothership. And then Lotus is the big brother and then Tattoo is the little sister,” he explains. “My concepts are being shrunken up a bit, because I don’t want to compete against myself.”
Be that as it may, neither he nor the crew of Virginia’s Ohm Productions, whose president Jeff Darby simultaneously oversaw the builds for both Tattoo and Lotus, used the club’s modest footprint as an excuse to skimp on innovation. “We had done two clubs [Fur and Lotus] that were very heavy on all this very plush stuff. And [Romeo] wanted to do something down and dirty,” recalls Ohm lighting designer Ryan Rafferty.
Bearing this in mind, architect Michael Francis of D.C.-based design firm Queue, LLC, sourced a number of uniquely modified materials and integrated them into the club’s veneer. Skull helmets were perforated and used as light sconces along the columns; motorcycle chains serve as partitions separating the downstairs VIP area from the main bar section; and faux-leather upholstery for the benches bears tire treads.
As for custom-made eye candy, Francis commissioned metal fabricator Jim Hill of Hill Enterprises to create a massive stainless steel bar, complete with chichi tribal designs etched onto the front and topped by a 40-foot slab of red onyx stone and a stainless steel mesh. A stainless steel motorcycle man sculpture, designed by local artist Robert Cole, shoots out from the wall behind the bar like a mounted hipster moosehead. And sumptuous photos of bare-backed tattooed hotties, snapped by longtime lowbrow snapshot artists Justice Howard and Robin Perine, are positioned directly across in between columns. These columns are outfitted with GKD metal fabrics and backlit from behind to add depth.
“When I think about biker bars, they are not really designed; they appear ‘thrown together.’ I say this with admiration because it is nearly impossible to make great spaces look organic or DIY,” says Francis. “So, as in all of our projects, our concepts are developed through a rigorous study process where we look for inspiring elements to an idea that will create cohesion and interest for the guest.”
Directly above the downstairs VIP area is a glassed-in VIP lounge directly adjacent to the VJ called the Rockstar Table. Its position above the crowd gives whoever pays the $2,000 to sit there a chance to lord over the common herd.
“To me, it’s like being onstage. You look down and you see everybody under your feet and you’re the main attraction,” says Romeo. “People like it, ‘cause they feel like rock stars. You have your own private bathroom. Everybody can see you. Everybody wants to know what’s going on upstairs.”
A motorcycle man steel sculpture by local artist Richard Cole flies out over the bar.
All Aboard VJ Air
Alongside the stylishly rakish interior, video defines the space. “We wanted to put the club together without having the video look like it was thrown together,” says Rafferty. “You go to a lot of clubs nowadays and you just see a plasma screen there for the hell of it. [We] put the minimum number of screens in the club to make it a viable video club, but still have everybody able to see a video from wherever they’re sitting.”
This is accomplished with the help of a 137-inch custom video screen directly below the VJ booth, and an NEC WE610 projector shining 2000 ANSI lumens onto it, along with four LCD Samsung 940MW monitors built into the columns. Underneath the motorcycle man is a 40-inch Sony KDL-40XBR2, while a 60-inch LG plasma is placed in the lower VIP area directly under the projection screen. Although Rafferty admits such a move is hardly restrained, “people need to see from there too, and what better way than to make the entire wall a screen?”
In this club, the VJ serves double duty as DJ and LJ. Since space in the cramped booth was at a premium, Rafferty points to the booth’s construction – coordinated and developed alongside Jim Hill, Ohm’s master electrician Naamon Wood and chief rigger Charles Weiman – as the most difficult part of the installation.
When they were done, Ohm emerged with a cockpit-style design. Four 7-inch displays hang over the VJ’s head, broadcasting four distinct zones – the column LCDs, the bar monitor, the downstairs VIP 60-inch monitor and the custom screen – to which he can send a signal, so he can keep tabs on both the crowd and the visuals. From here, the VJ controls three Pioneer DVJ-1000 DVD decks and a DJM-800, using a pro-grade Panasonic MX-70 video switcher to apply effects to visuals and send the signal to the projector and monitors.
The system has a laptop intervention for Promo Only, the video service which supplies much of Tattoo’s content; it can also accommodate visiting VJs and custom content developed by Ohm’s Craig Macon. However, because visiting VJs rarely work in high definition, and standards for the format are only now being determined, the club is currently working with standard resolution video. Regardless, the system is primed for an upgrade when the time is right.
Custom tire-tread upholstery covers the benches throughout the entire venue.
The Rock Show
Also inside the VJ booth is the Robe DMX Control 1024, a simple lighting controller which handles the modest assortment of Robe Color Washes and Spots positioned above the main bar area. Lights are preprogrammed so that the VJ can change their colors and positions at the push of a button. Despite the Spartan set-up, Rafferty reports the club has asked for even more programming for the controller’s library.
Counterbalancing the Robes are the harsher white lights chosen by Francis to highlight the columns and bar interiors, in keeping with the bar’s rough-and-tumble aesthetic. “We went with a lot of white lighting, and letting the video and lighting units themselves actually set the color and mood of the room,” Rafferty says.
As for sound, Ohm Production’s John Fiorito fell back on six customized EAW FR159z compact full-range speakers for tops and mids, along with four EAW FR250z compact subwoofers, powered by two Crest Pro Series 9200s, which supply 3250 watts per channel. The FR159zs are flown from the ceiling, with a 15-inch replacing the 12-inch driver to accommodate the diversity of musical styles played at Tattoo. The subs are placed within the bar itself as well as near the entranceway.
Fiorito reports that this setup allows for a pleasant distribution of sound: “All through the bar area in the exact square of the club is where you get the more formal sound presence. And as you go underneath the private seating area, you get a nice little drop so that people can have a nice conversation.”
Ever the proud parent, Romeo speaks of opening yet another bar in D.C., this time an upscale bar specializing in designer cocktails. He pledges Ohm will midwife this project, as well. “I’m the visionary, so when I have the visions, I tell them what I want and they pretty much do exactly what I wanted,” he says. “They even make it better.”