Oh, Promises, Promises: Bacchus Aims High but Falls Short

<i> Rose Apodaca is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition</i>

Billed as “an event to stimulate the body and imagination,” the grand opening last weekend of Bacchus in Newport Beach’s Lido Marina Village promised a maze of illusions, dwarfs (that’s right), magicians and court jesters.

Sophisticated special effects would juice headless talking statues and create a sense of thunder and lightning inside one of the many, many rooms of the 17,000-square-foot building.

The ornate invitation tempted guests with sights that would shock and dazzle, such as classy harem dancers shakin’ it for “the voyeuristic.” It even enjoined to RSVP immediately “or disappointment will ensue.”

Well, it ensued.


The latest contender on the super-duper nightclub circuit, Bacchus was like a fine wine uncorked before its time. The army of performers was scattered and not very entertaining. Technical difficulties infected the electrical and special effects system throughout, according to the owners. The dancing girls never appeared.

Most of the fuel for the Bacchanalia happening Friday and Saturday night, which benefited local charities through a portion of the $40 ticket price, came from the complimentary wine--not from the eye candy promised.

The club, nevertheless, has potential--maybe even to become a pleasure dome worthy of the god of wine and hedonism.

Co-partner and club manager Jamie Date boasts a resume of fabulous clubs he helped open in London, as well as the opening in March of Roxbury South in Santa Ana--which was a memorable eve in local club lore.


Date, then, better deliver, or not only will the gods not be amused. Neither will the locals.

Bacchus is a great space that deserves an equally risky and innovative treatment. Especially one that will pull in a hip clientele and not one decked out in gaudy sequins (unless, of course, the sequins are part of a cheesy ensemble).

Date’s partners-in-crime are local boys Eric Beneker and Drew Hibbert. The trio behind Bacchus report they have sunk about $1 million in renovations into the former Magic Island building. They kept the Egyptian motifs on the walls, the small stages in each of the two dance halls and the billiards room, and the shaky elevator in the entrance way, which gives the illusion of sinking to the depths of the Earth but, in Disney fashion, actually takes you nowhere.

After being greeted by a welcoming committee of dwarfs (a throwback to Bacchus himself that will continue at the club), the first stop was the piano lounge. A live pianist playing a baby grand will eventually share the spotlight with the above-mentioned special effects, which were still being worked on earlier this week.

To newcomers last weekend, the lightly filled room and mellow atmosphere seemed anti-climatic, despite the presence of a magician. The invite had promised so much to guests, one expected to get immediate sensory bombardment. But the curious pushed onward through the labyrinth of hallways, cubby holes and rooms.

The billiards room, which resembles King Tut’s chambers, houses two red-felt tables and several cushy chairs to spectate or chat.

Next-door is one of the dance rooms, pounding out contemporary music (translated as mainstream dance pop). And just steps from the parquet dance floor is the mini-theater, a 15-seater where patrons can view old romantic and arty flicks.

And there’s the ubiquitous VIP rooms, including one with a pool table, that will eventually cost privileged bores $750 a year to enter.


But onward and upward. The second floor boasts a restaurant, a bar and a second dance room. The dining room, set in a Bedouin tent, is lavishly decorated with yards of burgundy and black fabric draped on the walls, the ceiling and as curtains in the doorway. Candle-lit, the room seats 50 on velvet and bamboo chairs and serves a menu of Mediterranean cuisine by award-winning chef David Gibb.

A secret Seance Room adjoining the restaurant holds up to a dozen guests for private parties and comes with a crystal ball and other gypsy props wired by special-effects engineer Page Martin.

Across the hall, the dance room will double as a mini-concert venue, say owners, offering a range of live music, with an extensive light and sound system already in place.

Here, like downstairs, the playlist is good but commercial. Granted, every club is apparently plagued with finding anything stimulating in the current rotation lists of radio hip-hop, retro and pop alternative. But filling two rooms with this kind of fare does little to set Bacchus apart from other clubs.


* In the Lido Marina Village, 3505 Via Oporto, Newport Beach.

* (714) 675-8712.

* Cover: $10. Open Friday and Saturday only from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.



Illusions, 2285 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. (714) 642-5477. Open Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $5 before 8:30 p.m., after that it’s $7 on Thursdays, $9 on Fridays and Saturdays. In the realm of nightclubs open to high schoolers, Illusions has potential. A former disco palace, the place still has a “Saturday Night Fever"-era decor, but music (depending on the night) is mostly hip-hop, funk, old school and techno. And the only liquid kick here comes from caffeinated sodas. Dress code prohibits baseball caps, bandannas and beepers.

Odyssey at Club 5902, 5902 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach. (714) 254-7400. Saturdays only, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $5. As the ‘70s run their course in mainstream nightclubs and on radio, pop-scene pushers are moving on to the next decade, and Orange County is uncharacteristically on the crest with this weekly Odyssey into the ‘80s. Patrons, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, dance to bouncy Eurodisco and New Wave blasts. This is one alternative that shows potential.

Sequoia Club, 7530 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park. (714) 991-8108. Thursday nights, 7 p.m. to midnight. Cover: $4.50. The scene here on Thursday is strictly ballroom. The place--with banquet-style tables, florid rose- and periwinkle-colored carpet and mirrored balls over the parquet dance areas--is just fancy enough without any airs or camp; so dress is not formal, nor too casual. Patrons take to two dance floors when the live music begins, few staying seated in their chairs. Dance instruction from 7 to 8 p.m.

Waterfront Hilton, 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. (714) 960-7873. Friday nights, open 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $3. Rad beach dudes, disco divas and studly GQ types in their 20s converge at this dimly lit hotel club in droves on Friday nights to funk it up, hang out and collect phone numbers. But the scene resembles more a junior high dance than Red Onion-style swinging. Arrive early or near closing or prepare to wait in a lengthy line that stretches into the lobby. Negatives: high drink prices after 10 p.m., big crowds and a small dance floor (you can sweat standing still in this hotbox).

Our House Coffee Bar and Bakery, 720 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. (714) 650-8960. Open daily at 8 a.m. Closing times vary depending on business, usually 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. No cover. The idea behind this converted Chinese restaurant (the red Naugahyde booths and Oriental glass etchings are still around, mixed in with funky, castoff furniture) was to have a place where friends could converge, eat American-style home-cooking and wash it down with a beverage of choice (beers, wines, various coffees). Our House gets a clientele of old and young alike, with a casual attitude being the common denominator.

In Cahoots, 1401 S. Lemon St., Fullerton. (714) 441-1666. Open Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, open to all ages from noon to 4:30 p.m., ages 21 and over until 2 a.m. Cover: Varies, $2 to $4. It’s no fluke that this club is--as it promises--"a two-step above the rest.” The latest addition to a national chain based in Houston, this In Cahoots has a very friendly staff, a great sound system and an incredible 2,000-square-foot dance floor that is “floating” (lined with foam) for extra comfort. Good thing too, since the floor stays jumping all night.