Downtown L.A.'s one-way streets and narrow roadways are often hard to navigate. So when Nicole Pietrini and Kristina Dahlin made their trip from Long Beach to Olympic and Figueroa for Sunday's grand opening of Club Nokia featuring a performance by Beck and Jenny Lewis, they were expecting to get lost.
But as they prepared to exit the 10 Freeway, the venue's electric blue lights, which beamed vibrantly against the night sky "like the North Star," proved to be the only direction they needed.
"Easy navigation is essential," said Pietrini, 26. "Why go somewhere if there's too much hassle involved? This is easy. You get off the freeway and 'boom' you're here."
"Here" is Club Nokia. The 2,300-capacity venue is the latest addition to L.A. Live's $2.5-billion sports, residential and entertainment district next to the company's Nokia Theatre and Staples Center. The complex, which also hosted rock legends the Who and a Lakers basketball game Sunday night, is intended to bolster gentrification efforts aimed at transforming downtown into an urban nightlife hub.
"Downtown is having a resurgence," said Aaron Heck, 36, of West Hollywood. "It might rival New York's SoHo someday. It could be a city center unlike anything we've ever seen. If you haven't bought a condo down here, you better get on it."
As chic lofts replace shabby buildings and mom and pop stores are swapped for bars and galleries, Club Nokia seems to fit in with the ongoing revitalization efforts.
"It's the perfect place for someone in their late 20s, early 30s who doesn't want to traipse around the gritty downtown area but wants a nice place to hang out," said Dahlin, 27.
Surrounded by plenty of public parking lots, the dimly lit tri-level club, described by many attendees as "intimate" and "charming," serves as an alternative destination to venues such as the Henry Fonda or the Wiltern or even the Hollywood Bowl, where finding parking can sometimes be challenging.
But it's the futuristic decor with vibrant backlights in hues of blue, pink, orange and green that had most people talking.
"It's a nice alternative to the dirty Hollywood clubs," said Kitty Lyon, 22, of Venice, who usually frequents such establishments as the Knitting Factory, the Whisky and the Roxy.
Club Nokia's main entrance features a collage of screens known as the "Timeline Wall," where attendees can send text messages, pictures or videos to the venue's digital mailbox and watch as they appear on the screens above.
VIP guests have access to an exclusive area on the club's second floor with a private DJ booth and cabanas, and all levels feature mounted plasma screens with a live show feed and outdoor patios with views of L.A.'s picturesque skyline.
"This is awesome. It's like we're in 'Tron,' " said C.J. Jacobson, 33, of Venice. He said he rarely travels "anywhere east of Lincoln Boulevard," though he did have one suggestion: "Get rid of the TVs. They take away from the concert feel."
The club, booked by Goldenvoice, is expected to host 150 concerts and comedy shows annually. Acts such as Usher, B.B. King, Stone Temple Pilots and Sarah Silverman are scheduled to perform before the end of the year.
"We're trying to make downtown into a city center," said Goldenvoice President Paul Tollett. "We want it to be the great destination place we know it can be."
Hannah Hughes, 23, of West Hollywood, had one suggestion in achieving that goal: add more restaurants for visitors looking to hang out before and after shows.
L.A. Live has already thought of that and plans to open a string of new eateries in the center, includ- ing Fleming's Steak House, Katsuya, the Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill, an ESPN Zone, Rosa Mexicano and the Yard House.
They're sure to be easy to find. Just follow the electric blue lights.