It’s 11:30, and Destiny’s Child might say that the club is jumpin’ jumpin’. But Don Prohaski, owner of new Crown Street club Funktion, has other words to describe his month-old establishment.
“If someone’s tired of the same old thing, this is their new home,” Prohaski said. “This music isn’t on the radio.”
Funktion is just one of several recently opened nightspots along Crown Street, which is quickly becoming a bustling strip. Prohaski shares with his fellow club owners a desire to see a reinvigorated night scene in New Haven. In addition to Alchemy/Lounge 215 and Risk, newcomers Funktion and Neat Lounge each cater to a particular clientele, whether it be businessmen craving straight-up martinis, locals who prefer drum-and-bass or Yale students yearning for Destiny’s Child.
Now that students have had some time to get reacquainted with their second hometown, Prohaski and his peers are hoping that a few adventurous students will ditch campus parties for a night out on the town, doing what seemed unimaginable only a few years ago — club-hopping in New Haven.
The revival of the Crown Street area began last year, with the opening of Alchemy/Lounge 215 and Risk. Crowds often linger outside the clubs – one boasting cafe-style outdoor seating and another beckoning with a revolving dance floor. Many of them are locals who remember the strip’s glory days.
“This was once one of the most vibrant strips,” said Kellie Decapua, manager of Alchemy/Lounge 215. “I’m from Hartford and I used to come out here all the time.”
Now, Crown Street is alive again, pulsating with heavy bass lines. While Risk and Alchemy/Lounge 215 have had a chance to win a core clientele, including locals and students, Funktion and Neat Lounge hope to shake it up by offering two unique variations of the ideal night on the town.
Espresso Martinis and Caviar Dreams
Dress code: jet set
Neat Lounge, the strip’s newest addition, easily distinguishes itself from established New Haven nightspots: it isn’t a club.
Co-owner Brian Gilhuly transformed the former Chase Manhattan Bank branch into a chic, low-lit lounge. The arched windows and frosted glass of the historic building give way to the purple glow of lights, the shimmer of an oversized disco ball, and a stylish, graceful staff.
A typical weekday night finds a medium-sized crowd sipping cosmopolitans and the Lounge’s espresso martini — a concoction of freshly brewed espresso, Stoli vanilla, white cr*me de cacao, and kahlua. Popular hits from the last three decades float through the air, and even campy disco numbers seem mellow at the Lounge.
The door policy, however, isn’t quite so relaxed. The Lounge upholds a strict dress code. Anyone wearing a t-shirt, shorts, jeans, or sneakers will be turned away at the door.
“We have a doorman, and security inside,” Apotrias said. “We run a pretty tight ship.”
If they pass this test, which is particularly difficult on weekends, students can enter Neat Lounge without paying a cover.
Businessmen, Omni Hotel guests, and Shubert patrons are common fixtures at happy hour on Friday and Saturday, the Lounge’s busiest nights. Otherwise, grad students ease into the comfortable sofas and stools to relax on weekday nights.
“We were looking to attract a slightly older crowd, couples going to the Shubert,” Apotrias said. “People my age haven’t had a place to go [in New Haven] at night. This is what we’ve been looking for, a place where conversations can still be held.”
Usually the Neat Lounge sees patrons from ages 25 to 50, but on Fridays the crowd does get younger, and Apotrias is looking forward to seeing more students among his customers.
“It’s a great lounge atmosphere with mellow music and a great scene,” Amar Krishnaswamy MED ’03 said.
After a few espresso martinis, clubbers will undoubtedly have an excess of energy and a shortage of inhibition. Funktion is the place to get down in style.
Replacing the Alley Cat, a hip-hop themed club that closed two years ago, Funktion distinguishes itself with its roster of underground electronica, a genre lacking in New Haven clubs.
“I’ve always loved underground dance music,” said Prohaski, who has DJed for Gotham Citi and Bar as Don Skeye.
“Our music program is radically different and more European. Response and buzz has been great. People feel comfortable and at home here. There’s no pretension.”
Funktion avoids the snobbery of most clubs, beginning with a friendly doorman who won’t let you in without a smile. Inside, black leather sofas on bare hardwood floors invite patrons to relax in luxurious simplicity with a signature Funktion martini, a gorgeous blue concoction. While the noise level does rise, the front room maintains a lounge atmosphere.
The back room is anything but lounge. On Saturday nights Prohaski spins tribal and trance as patrons dance the night away on a sunken hardwood floor. The bare brick walls recall a stripped-down Chelsea club, but the multi-colored lasers zooming over the floor is what gives Funktion more of an edge.
“We’re the only place that has an intelligent laser show,” Prohaski said. “People stare at it all night.”
Funktion hosts a largely local clientele, though out-of-towners and Connecticut suburbanites have started to check it out. The biggest crowds come out on Friday and Saturday to enjoy house and ambient drum and bass. Prohaski often employs guest DJs from the Connecticut and New York area, including Trevor Hochman ’93. The club boasts a huge collection on vinyl and a booming sound system.
“It will appeal to a smarter music crowd,” Prohaski said, including Yale students who “have a great knowledge of music.”
Last week Funktion hosted a private birthday party for a student. Although he had never been to Funktion before, guest Peter Shanley ’03 appreciated the down-to-earth style. Prohaski has also held a pub crawl for graduate students, and hopes to attract more students.
The Strip v. Toad’s
While the more well-established Yale night life — including Toad’s and BAR — seems like strong competition for the Crown Street clubs, the owners are confident.
“I’ve always thought that more competition breeds good business,” Apotrias said. “People park and walk up and down the street, they bounce around. Business has seen a definite revival.”
Prohaski agreed, adding that about 60 percent of his clientele hops from club to club. Since Neat Lounge and Funktion opened, Decapua has seen a rise in numbers at Alchemy.
“It’s already been helping,” she said. “When we came it was just us and BAR [on Crown], and now people have a choice.”
While the Crown Street clubs feel that the strip-style development will benefit them all, Toad’s Place owner Brian Phelps isn’t worried about his club’s relatively lonely spot.
“We’ve been here for 26 years,” Phelps said. “We try to cater to Yale students. We have concerts, which they don’t do. We search out what would appeal to Yale students.”
Toad’s has won a reputation at Yale for its weekly parties, free with Yale ID, and one dollar drafts. But it’s not the only thing to do in New Haven any more.
Two new clubs are set to open near the Crown Street area, including SciFi Cafe and Playwright, an Irish-themed pub. Gotham Citi recently expanded its well-known establishment. Another newcomer is the brand new Indigo Lounge.
“New Haven is a great city, for young people and older people,” said Karolyn Kirchgesler, executive director of the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau. “[The development] gives people who are here, whether for conferences or school, more options. For the students, it’s a quality of life thing.”
While students may now have other options open to them, campus life is still a strong draw for most. After club-hopping, students will al
ways have good old party suites and courtyard bashes to come home to.
“[The clubs] give me and my friends a time and place for dressing up and shaking it down,” said Beth Deters ’04, who has sampled all four Crown Street clubs. “I consider the clubs the alternative to the Yale party scene not the prime meat but a good condiment.”
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