Some of my critics, since eaten by Ming-xei at the National Zoo, have commented that my articles are a mixture of half-truths, opinions, and bad jokes. This week, however, at the behest of the editors of this paper, I’m adding some facts to the broth. I expect the naysayers will feel pretty silly now. This is a real article. Still a column, of course, and I made the editors promise that my picture (recently featured in Rumpus) would be attached. But here come some facts:
Risk, two months old, is on 203 Crown St., right across from College Wine and Spirits. It’s a little bit outside the Yale circumference, in some ways, which makes it a nice alternative to other clubs. Still, they’ve made sure to accomodate the Yale crowd, going so far, last Wednesday night, as to print up balloons that said “Yale Only.” Wednesday has become, in fact, “Yale Night,” a smart choice because a lot of other nights have an identifiable destination — Toad’s on Saturday for example — but more and more people have started to go out midweek. As the president of the club, George Amaral, who has worked with clubs in New York, Florida, and Danbury, said to me, “we’ve actually turned away people on Wednesday night if they aren’t from Yale. I think that kind of that thing helps to differentiate us from Toad’s or BAR.” Personally, I have no classes Thursday or Friday so Risk is my end of week celebration. You can register complaints of jealousy at the Yale Daily News offices.
That’s the outline, but to really get what’s going on at Risk you need to soak up the atmosphere. It’s kind of like Beirut, in that way. First of all, there’s a deadly rope line, and only guys with more than a gallon of gel in their hair can get by. Once you do get in, you walk up a long flight of stairs, totally dark. At the top, the lights hit you — a mixture of neon and the search beams that helicopters use to find criminals. I stood there for a couple of minutes like a deer in the headlights and then I walked in. It’s pretty overwhelming. The first floor, the main dance area, has a full bar with three tenders. The drinks are a little pricey, but definitely packed with liquor. No watering down. There’s also plenty of room around the bar to hang out and watch the drink-slingers flirt for tips. This is actually one of the nicest parts of the club. If you’re in the mood, you can dance. If you have no legs, you can sit around and shoot the breeze.
If you do decide to go out and dance, however, you won’t be dissapointed. First of all, there are gimmicks everywhere. For one, there are the balloons; then there are bursts of dense smoke that whirl the dance floor into a fever; a bass system that lowers from the ceiling into the middle of the crowd; a DJ overhang from which he tosses T-shirts and yells at everyone; and a podium that has its own version of the booty-cam.
Adding to all this is Risk’s high-tech design. As Amaral told me, what separates Risk from other clubs is that “A lot of our materials are cutting-edge. We have our sound system, Avalon [the only one in Connecticut and one of four in New England] that makes the air move, not too noisy. Our designer, Teddy Janatka, was very good with colors for our light system. It’s all the latest of the latest.” It’s also pretty small, so that everyone bumps into each other and there’s not the huge, sprawled-out atmosphere of Toad’s.
In fact, Risk has drawn a lot of attention as being a kind of anti-Toad’s. Jamil Moen ’01 told me, “Go because it’s not Toad’s and stay because they don’t play “Sexual Healing.” That’s a pretty good summary of what’s it’s like. A little classier than Toad’s but also a little kitschy; plenty of good dance songs. It’s in between the traditional Wednesday/Saturday spot and the hellhole that is BAR. A few loyal readers may know that I’ve been on a month-long crusade against the latter, resurgent club, or more specifically on a crusade against watery Long Island Iced Teas, cage dancers, the bru room, one-note heavy metal, and glow-stick culture. BAR is everything a New Haven club should not be — pretentious, too loud, too dark, humorless, booty-camless, and full of opium-clouded waifs who haven’t eaten since 1994.
Risk has the right touch of this without being too over-the-top for Yale kids who want a fun night out. Amaral said to me, “BAR is nice to be compared to, as is Toad’s. We’re just trying to bring more people out and make New Haven what it used to be.” A noble sentiment, but Risk is definitely a threat to other clubs, and especially to BAR.
I actually talked to one of the bartenders (and they’ve been drawing a lot of attention too, actually, for their transparent shirts and stiletto heels), a 20-something named Taryn Zambori who explained Risk’s appeal.
“It’s a good mix of people,” she said. “It’s a little more upscale then a lot of places, but it’s a good crowd of people who want to have fun. Plus the people who work there are great.”
This is all pretty much true. Although there are a few unsavory types there, hanging around the bars. I saw a guy with a receding hairline and a silver ponytail halfway down his back making out with one of the Olsen twins (Mary-Kate, most likely) in a corner. I was a little freaked out, but I suppose it’s all part of the deal.
The upstairs, where I saw this unfold, is the second part of Risk. It’s a mixture of the Coliseum and a VIP lounge. First of all, there’s a huge open section looking out over the dance floor. Basically, people too cool to hang out downstairs sip their drinks and look at the chicks. There are also two bars. One is right up the stairs, and it’s kind of a more complicated version of the downstairs bar. There are comfortable chairs all over the place, and couples who want a more private spot to which they can retreat use it as a kind of Lovers’ Lane. Or, as Phil Sternhell ’01 says, “the soft leather couches are a little nicer than the chairs at Toad’s.” Then there’s a bar behind a glass partition that’s way more laid back. I went in there and I felt like I was in the cafeteria from Star Trek. The final piece of the puzzle is the Soco Grille, a Mediterranean restaurant downstairs that turns into a dance floor with a top-40 DJ on the weekend. Add the table of food — “hors d’oeuvres for fat people,” as Rachel Blitzer ’02 put it – and you can move in next week.
One of the big problems with Yale is that we’re all ready to start living out the movie “Boiler Room,” with all the PS2’s, mondo houses, $50 cigars and cognac. But we’re also still students. Risk kind of solves this problem. It’s both upscale and chill enough for 21-year-olds blowing off steam. Those of you who sent 98 Degrees a Christmas card and have always hung out in weenie bins 24 hours a day might not like it because it’s a little too sedate. We all know you drink lighter fluid on the weekends and pass out by three in the afternoon.
Plus, the Walter Camp night is there this year — mark your calendars for Feb. 9 — and we can all bump elbows with Michael Vick. Or Mr. Ponytail and Mary-Kate Olsen, if you prefer.
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