Clocking in with a $1.3 million price tag, the new bar/club amalgam Grasshopper/Red Lights (506 Main Street) has got to be the Bellagio of downtown nightspots. So that must mean owner Michael Caplan is the NoDo Steve Wynn.
In one of many upstairs sitting rooms, the 36-year-old Caplan leans back leisurely and takes in his newly opened, 5,000-square-foot venture. Although he's been holding down the fort over at Club Uropa (3302 Mercer), Caplan, like many southwest nightlife proprietors before him, decided to bring his act downtown. And he knew just what kind of action he wanted down there.
"Every time I go to Europe and I go to these places, I have the time of my life," says Caplan. "And I'm very impressed with the music and the decor and everything else that goes along with it. And I figured that if I was impressed with it, hopefully, if I could bring the same feel here, then other people would feel the same way."
With Grasshopper/Red Lights, Caplan is looking to the bring the flavor of that fabled party town Amsterdam to Main Street. Caplan has been to Amsterdam 16 times in the past eight years. (He has family there, so he doesn't go just for the obvious reasons.) For inspiration, Caplan and his architect, famed Houston club designer Isaac Preminger, took a trip to Dutch City to get some sketches on how to bring a Eurocentric club to downtown. Upon his return, Caplan eyed a vacated building on Main that he thought was perfect for his vision. "If you've ever been to Europe or Amsterdam, and if you look at the facade of this building, it almost looks like it was taken out of Amsterdam and just stuck on this street," he says.
The downstairs bar, Grasshopper, takes its name from a popular Amsterdam coffee shop, while the upstairs club is much more easily sourced. It took about a year for Caplan to soup up Grasshopper/Red Lights to his liking -- and, man, did he kick out the jams. The oak floor, which Caplan says is about 120 years old, was shipped in from Europe. The artwork, nearly $40,000 worth of it from an Amsterdam gallery, adorns walls already lavished with $60-per-gallon Ralph Lauren paint. The Victorian-style furniture cost about $20,000. Caplan has even snagged Sean Sutton, a 15-year veteran of Amsterdam's DJ scene, to perform over the club's 3,000-watt sound system.
Since its April 19 grand opening, many of the curious have been quite impressed. "I think they've one-upped Tonic [310 Main Street]," says patron Mark Gregge, 43, who works at a venture capital firm. "I think they've refined the Tonic concept, polished it a little bit more, added a few nicer touches, a few better curves, and made it a lot fresher and nicer." But most folks haven't been getting a whiff of Amsterdam's canals from the Bayou City nightspot. Javier Loya, a 33-year-old natural gas broker and onetime Amsterdam tourist, digs the place but isn't getting that European vibe. "It screams New York," says Loya. "It screams L.A. to me."
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Gary Garnett, co-owner of The Gatsby Social Club (2540 University Boulevard), stopped by one night and had to give the spot its props. "We're actually enjoying it," says Garnett. "It's a nice place to have a drink." But he, too, is skeptical about the club's European aesthetic. "You're not gonna re-create something Amsterdam [in Houston] any more than you're gonna take country/western and a mechanical bull to Amsterdam and re-create [Houston] -- ain't gonna happen."
Caplan is quick to defend his project. "We bring in a lot of Amsterdam-type concepts here, but I'm also building off of my concept I have at Uropa," he says, referring to the posh mini-lounges that can also be found in his other club. "It's a fusion." Caplan is still finessing his latest prized possession in the hopes that patrons will take notice and come back with more future regulars. His staff serves up espressos along with the usual drink specials. He's also looking to offer edible perks like hors d'oeuvres and those little quiches you get at corporate functions. But let's not forget his most recent addition: Caplan has brought four hookahs that people can check out and smoke with friends.
Since last month, Hyperia (2001 Commerce) has been trying out something new on the first Friday of the month. The club has been working with San Francisco's Spundae Reckords (the folks behind that label must've been in Amsterdam smoking fat ones when they came up with that name) to bring underground DJs around to these parts. Last month the delicious DJ Deep Dish was the special guest spinner. On Friday, June 1, Def Mix Productions crew member and Japanese DJ Satoshi Tomiie, as well as New York spinster Jimmy Van M, will be the visiting headliners. So, for all the H-town underground dance fans looking to attend this shindig, make sure these out-of-towners feel welcome, and show 'em that we're not the same muthafuckas they see on Dallas -- 'cuz you know that's what they're thinkin'!