Zebrawood paneling on the walls. Chrome trim everywhere you look. Hundreds of custom leather couches, dozens of VIP alcoves and banks of hi-def TVs. A liquid nitrogen A/C system. And more than 100 feet of thick marble bars — black marble in one room, white in another.
This is how the Gidewons roll.
The first family of Atlanta nightlife, the exotic and enigmatic clan behind some of the highest-rolling clubs Atlanta has ever known, is getting ready to make another splash in the city’s club scene — a $4 million splash that includes two new high-end nightspots spread out over nearly 20,000 square feet of pricey real estate smack in the middle of Peachtree Street's booming Midtown Mile.
A tour of the unfinished space and a description of the amenities confirm that the two adjoining — but not joined — nightclubs will have few rivals in terms of luxury and VIPishness. Yet club owner Michael Gidewon, 36, doesn’t seem worried about going too up-market during a recession. “The people we’re going for — professional athletes, recording artists — aren’t really affected by the economy,” says the fashionable co-founder of the mega-clubs Vision, Compound and the Velvet Room.
But Gidewon is very concerned about another segment of the population — specifically, the 1,400 Atlanta residents who’ve signed an online petition aimed at keeping him from opening the clubs' doors and the hundreds who’ve shown up to neighborhood meetings calling for his defeat. He’s concerned enough that he’s appeared in person at several public hearings — unprecedented behavior for someone who shuns the spotlight and until recently had never given an interview. Since the end of July, the proposed nightclubs have become the focal points in a sometimes ugly public debate that touches on issues of public safety, racial tolerance and the very nature of urban living.
At a recent meeting of the Midtown Neighbors' Association’s license and permits committee, opponents invoked imagery of “thugs” and “bullets flying” if the clubs are allowed to open. When one activist claimed that an earlier Gidewon club, the opulent and hip-hop-centric Vision, “practically ruined the neighborhood,” the hall erupted in applause. Another Midtown resident, complaining of the noise such a club can bring, said living near Vision “was like living at Guantanamo, and we were the torture victims.” Perhaps not surprisingly, when the MNA board of directors met the following week, it voted overwhelmingly to recommend denial for the clubs’ liquor license applications.
But while community resistance to the Gidewons may be outspoken, well-organized and growing, opponents very well could find that, apart from their outrage, they have few real weapons for keeping the clubs out of Midtown.
The plan for the Gidewons’ Peachtree Street nightclub has been a long time coming. Even before Vision closed in August 2006 — having lost its lease after the property owner sold out to condo developers — Michael and his older brother Alex bought the leases of the old Velvet Room nightclub and the Touch of India restaurant across Peachtree. Michael received a building permit in late 2006 to begin overhauling those spaces into another Vision-style mega-club. But a year later, work had ceased and the space was seemingly abandoned.
“I got screwed,” says Gidewon, who explains that the city revoked his permit in 2007, claiming it had been issued in error. Under the guidelines of Midtown’s zoning overlay, which was adopted in 2001, a new nightclub can’t be larger than 10,000 square feet. “Instead of taking legal action, we decided to give the city what it wanted,” Gidewon continues. “In hindsight, we think it’s for the better.”
The current plan calls for two spaces, a nightclub and a lounge, each slightly smaller than 10,000 square feet. They’ll have separate entrances and no doors connecting them. (In a joking nod to the surrounding Special Public Interest zoning district, the working name of the clubs are SPI Club and SPI Lounge.)
“Vision was a beast,” Gidewon says. “It was 27,000 square feet and had room for 2,500 people. But the days of the monster club are over; now people want a more intimate experience.”
If anyone has their finger on the pulse of nightlife trends, it’s the Gidewons. Nearly two years into Vision’s successful run, they famously shut the club down for five months while completing a glitzy $2 million renovation. After Vision closed, they took the party to the Westside by buying Compound, a competing mega-club now also closed for renovations. Then, in 2007, they recycled the Velvet Room name for an expansive new nightclub in a shopping center off I-285 near Doraville.
Each of their clubs has served as a draw for celebrities, celeb-watchers and big-spending wannabes. Britney Spears and Sean “Diddy” Combs helped put Vision on the map, while Velvet Room has played host to such hip-hop stars as Big Boi, Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Snoop Dogg and T.I.
Gidewon explains that, with the extinction of the raunchy Buckhead club scene and the rise of hotel watering holes such as the W Buckhead’s Whiskey Blue and the Glenn hotel’s rooftop bar, intown club-goers are looking for a more laid-back, cosmopolitan vibe — with plenty of opportunities for flossin’.
The Peachtree Street side of the lounge is lined with VIP stalls and floor-to-ceiling windows to show off their free-spending occupants to passers-by. Next door, the windowless nightclub has a 5,500-square-foot dance floor, but nearly half of the building’s space is devoted to 22 separate VIP niches on two levels overlooking the dance floor. At the end of the room is a larger VIP area set aside for top-tier celebrities that boasts its own bathroom and a backdoor to the parking lot.
The lounge and nightclub each have a capacity of 658. Both spaces are noteworthy for their open floor plans, a departure from the private nooks and crannies found in many upscale clubs. In the world of the Gidewons, people come out to see and be seen.
“I want the space to be inviting,” Michael says. “We have nothing to hide.”
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