Three new clubs have opened the door to luxe night life in Tucson. Think Scottsdale. Think Versace crystal shot glasses. Think celebrity DJs.
Pearl, the most recent addition to the swanky dance club scene, opened late last month on the North Side in the former Keys dance club.
I.C.E. opened in March on Tanque Verde Road in the building that housed City Limits.
Level Bar/Lounge opened last fall in the upscale St. Philip's Plaza, down the road from Tucson's be-seen scene at La Encantada.
And Downtown's Heart 5 is looking to transform itself into Sapphire Lounge late this year.
The trend of upselling sophistication already has a solid hold in the Phoenix area.
"I think it's one of those things where clubs come and go so fast that you've always got to be the cool, hip, luxe spot," says Joe Hartzel, the 29-year-old general manager of Baroque Luxe Lounge in Scottsdale.
Level: Cozy, plush club for upscale clientele
The people behind Level Bar/Lounge saw the youthful, upscale clientele at Foothills restaurants like North and sensed that Tucson needed a nightclub for those who had outgrown college hangouts.
The ultra-cozy, very plush night spot opened last October.
"It's a really sleek, nice, Scottsdale kind of place," says Christian Mullen, the 37-year-old general manager of Level. One quality of Level that's refreshingly not big-city: the cover charge. Other than special events, a $5 cover is charged only on Saturdays. Sometimes a featured DJ on Thursdays calls for a cover of up to $10.
But back to the cozy: The inside of the club, which formerly housed Ovens Restaurant, is about 2,800 square feet, while the outdoor patio is about 1,300 square feet.
"This is a nice place — these are nice people," says 37-year-old Gabriel Moniz, a University of Arizona student who was enjoying a bottle of champagne with his friend Leticia Pfeil, 39.
The club often hosts a special event the last Thursday of the month. A June 28 Ibiza party ($5 for men, free for women) will feature Mediterranean-style cocktails and other "fun stuff," Mullen says.
On weekends, about half of the club's inside space is reserved for VIPs. Any customer can reserve a VIP booth, but a minimum of drinks and food must be ordered, depending on how many the tables seat.
For example, patrons who sit in the reserved booths for 12 people are expected to spend at least $250 total on alcohol and food. Smaller booths and tables come with smaller minimums. Bottle service will start Friday.
Mullen's not too concerned about his competitors.
"Competition's good because it keeps you on your toes — you don't rest on your laurels," says Mullen.
Level's disc jockey, DJ John Hayes, plays mostly house music, Mullen says. Guest DJs, such as Meat Katie from the UK who recently played a techno show, make occasional appearances, too.
The venture was the brainchild of the investment group that owns 58 Degrees and Holding Co., which has a restaurant and wine shop next door to Level and another in Midtown.
If you're hungry, Level's menu and 58 Degrees Bar and Bistro's late-night menu are the same, with $6-$12 dishes such as beef skewers, pot stickers and fantastic pomme frites with homemade dipping sauces. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The budget conscious who still want to dance should check out Wednesdays, when there's no cover, $1 drafts and $2 well drinks.
In summer, the dress code is relaxed, allowing for designer sneakers, jeans with no rips or tears and designer T-shirts. Level's usual dress code calls for nice jeans, collared shirts and no sneakers.
"We have all these new kind of contemporary concepts coming to Tucson," says Mullen, who's been in Tucson about two years. "Tucson is kind of following suit with Vegas and all those other places. It's been interesting to watch it all."
I.C.E.: You won't have to be 'surrounded by kids'
The new dance club I.C.E., which stands for Incredible Conceptual Entertainment, was a sea of dancing bodies on a recent Saturday night, grooving to everything from Shakira to Beyoncé in a cavernous room painted almost completely white. As a result, the wall's colors seemed to change every time the lighting shifted.
"I think it's cool," says Vicki Stotts, a 39-year-old staff sergeant at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. "At other clubs, they're too young. I'm still young enough to go out and have a good time, but I don't want to be surrounded by kids."
Stotts used to live in Las Vegas.
"This doesn't compare to Vegas, but for Tucson, this is cool," says Stotts, noting that it was her second time at I.C.E. "In Vegas, you have more variety."
Like the crowds at Pearl and Level, the patrons were a well-heeled mix of couples and same-sex groups. If they weren't dancing, they were clustered near the bar.
The club's two DJs play Top 40, high energy and dance on Thursdays; Latin on Fridays; and Top 40, pop and R&B on Saturdays. Occasional guest DJs have included Los Angeles-based DJ AM, aka Adam Goldstein, who has squired such divas as Nicole Richie and Mandy Moore.
Roonie G, a renowned video mixologist, will return to I.C.E. June 23. The cover will be at least $10.
"If Tucson is ready, I think that they should appreciate what they got and try to take care of it," says Henry Moreno, I.C.E.'s 34-year-old general manager, who moved from California to manage the club on East Tanque Verde Road. "They say they want to be like Scottsdale, but . . . I think people here get stuck in a rut. It's a bar town. They flock to Fourth Avenue."
More than 60 people stood in line at about 10:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday, occasionally getting turned away if they were wearing athletic gear, hats or flip-flops.
Patrons must also walk through a metal detector before paying the $7 cover. A reporter's pen was seized at the door (it's a potential weapon, don't you know) and later returned.
"We try to provide service to provide a safe environment for people to party in," Moreno says.
Patrons who pay $20 for VIP parking (plus the cover) are whisked into I.C.E. ahead of the line.
Once inside, the perks continue.
Like Pearl and, as of Friday, Level, bottle service is available. A fifth of vodka starts at about $200. A table can be reserved for a price of $50-$125 upfront.
Pearl: Massive club features four different areas
Much like the stereotypical Scottsdale resident, Pearl has had some work done.
Swathed in state-of-the-art lighting and electronics, Pearl is a restaurant, oxygen bar, lounge, dance club, smoking patio and unisex bathroom all contained in one 20,000-square-foot club. Yes — twenty thousand square feet.
"I hope we are waking up Tucson," says Pearl owner Luke Cusack, who's been in the club business since 1991. He owned and operated The Keys at that location before deciding on a major transformation. "If you want to attract high-tech, youthful businesses, you have to have a good place to have a quality time. The Old Pueblo mentality doesn't work."
Pearl is divided into four different areas — Touch, a semi-private ultra lounge; Element, an outdoor bar and lounge; Mantra, a metropolitan dance chamber/unisex bathroom/oxygen bar; and Orchid, the restaurant.
It opened May 25 after private parties that drew hundreds of well-dressed people, including restaurateurs, business owners and media.
One self-described "dance freak" said that Tucson has needed this kind of club for years.
"This is so much nicer than anything in Tucson," says Diann Obsidian, a 32-year-old Tucson artist. "I'm sick of driving up to Scottsdale and paying all that money just to go dancing. I hope this catches on here."
The renovation included creating a 2,000-square-foot patio and 4,000-square-foot addition that houses Mantra, with its unisex bathroom and oxygen bar. The accoutrements — the floors, lighting, walls and such — underwent a dramatic $2 million transformation, he says.
In anticipation of building his own ultra club, Cusack says he spent lots of time and money collecting things worldwide.
For example, he bought 150 pounds of pearls at the Tucson gem shows over the past three years. Today, he says, a half-million pearls are inlaid in the bartops and countertops, and all waitresses wear a string of pearls while on duty.
The Norwegian urinals are in storage, but the solid teak doors from Kuwait beckon people to enter. An assortment of furniture and other decorations garnered from hotels in Las Vegas help complete the décor. Much of the furniture was bought locally at Copenhagen.
"I did a study of ultra lounges all around the world. It's really a cultural thing; you socialize in a living room-type environment," Cusack says.
Pearl strives for clientele who don't mind paying $200 for a liter of Absolut. A bottle of Dom Perignon costs $369.
Sex, a dessert of strawberries and orange sections in sauces, can be had for $12.
The most discerning customers, however, might order from the club's Platinum Menu. At the top is the $5,000 Pink Pearl, which is two shots of Louis XIII Millennium Cognac in Versace crystal shot glasses and one bottle of Cristal Rose champagne in Swarovski crystal champagne glasses. Keep the pricey glassware — you paid for it.
The oxygen bar is a simple setup. A row of barstools sits in front of a machine that holds various flavors of oxygen. A buck a minute gives you access to sweet-smelling oxygen that supposedly cures hangovers and serves to rejuvenate.
Pearl's not just for the rich, though. From 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays, happy hour includes free hors d'oeuvres. Sin Sundays feature no cover for service-industry employees.
Pearl's restaurant, Orchid, serves light dishes such as Lotus Blossom Chicken Skewers from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Pearl's dress code is upscale stylish: "We need a place where we can dress up," says Cusack. That means no excessively baggy clothes, flip-flops, athletic wear, ball caps or plain-colored T-shirts, among other things. Go to www.pearltucson.com for details.
And the music?
"The music has a lot of beat; it's tribal but also has these orchestrated melodies," Cusack said. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Pearl is its interactive video. Vertical hi-def displays featuring a dozen different people are scattered throughout the club.
"Those are actually about 12 normal-looking models from Phoenix," Cusack said of the seemingly live people making eye contact and occasionally toasting patrons.
"I think we have more nice restaurants in Tucson than Phoenix, but we don't have any nice nightclubs," Cusack said. "We'll do this to the nth degree.
"Pearl was a labor of love; it's the most creative, advanced thing I've seen anywhere."
• Address: 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road.
• Phone: 721-7074.
• Hours: 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.
• Capacity: 619.
• Cover charge: Free on Thursdays; free before 10 p.m. on Fridays; $7 on Saturdays.
• Cost of bottle of Budweiser: $1-$3.
• Cost of a martini: $4.75.
• Food: No.
• Address: 4280 N. Campbell Ave.
• Phone: 615-3835.
• Hours: 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays.
• Capacity: 218.
• Cover charge: $5 on Saturdays; otherwise no cover unless there's a special event or guest DJ.
• Cost of bottle of Budweiser: $4.
• Cost of a martini: $7.50.
• Food: Yes.
• Address: 445 W. Wetmore Road.
• Phone: 888-8084.
• Hours: 5 p.m.-close Wednesdays-Sundays.
• Capacity: 900.
• Cover charge: From 5 to 8 p.m., no cover. On Fridays, $10; on Saturdays, $10 for women and $15 for men until 10:30 p.m.; up $5 each after. On Sundays, $5, or free for service-industry workers.
• Cost of bottle of Budweiser: $3.75.
• Cost of a martini: $4.75.
• Food: Yes.