It's the most beautiful room in the city.
Sky-high ceilings slope gracefully over marble floors. Tiled murals grace doorways; low, vintage furniture lines the walls. There are no windows, and the room is accessible only by a set of wide, marble staircases.
I'm in the Amber Room, the deliciously new, unbelievably beautiful lounge located in the basement of the Old National Centre. Under the Murat Theater and Egyptian Room, a set of rooms has been sitting, mostly unused, for a quarter century.
But the doors to the Amber Room will be flung wide open starting in the New Year. Six days a week, the lounge will be open for the public to enjoy a cocktail, recline on the comfortable chaises, and even catch a bit of an old movie.
Just down the hall is another room, little seen until now. Named Deluxe, a second underground venue space at the Old National Centre is just a few steps away from the Amber Room. The large, square, open space has marble pillars and a tiled, mosaic floor. One side of the room is lined with a roped-off VIP area that overlooks the stage.
Long-time Indianapolis DJs and promoters John Larner and Slater Hogan have made their dreams a reality with the opening of the new venues. Deluxe, a mid-size venue, has a 500-person capacity. The Amber Room, the luxe lounge next door, can hold 250.
It's not a traditional opening.
The Murat Shrine, recently retitled the Old National Centre, is the largest Shrine temple in North America. Built in 1909, it was mostly known for its theatre, which hosted the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Opera Company, and speeches by the likes of Winston Churchill. It's arguably Indianapolis' best known venue, and includes the Murat Theatre and Egyptian Room.
In more recent years, it's been taken over by international promoter Live Nation Entertainment. The corporation signed a long term lease with the Murat Shriners that allows Live Nation to operate the venue.
Hogan and Larner have a unique business agreement that allows them creative control and full time employment at the Amber Room or Deluxe. They have the safety net of an international company with unlimited resources, but the local credibility and reputation resulting from years of work in the city. Their official (and long) titles are “the designated promoters to develop, market, and program the Amber Room and Deluxe.”
Arich Berghammer, Live Nation executive vice president of clubs and theaters, was in town for business with Hogan and Larner during the time I was conducting my interviews. I snagged a moment with him; his love for Indianapolis (however PR-inspired it may have been) abounded.
“Indianapolis is simply one of the best cities in the country,” Berghammer said. “Every time I come back here, I am shocked at how nice everyone is. And the Old National Centre is one of our very best venues in the country. Absolutely, bar none, one of the best.”
Terry Hennessey has worked at the Old National Centre for almost two decades. As executive director of the venue, Hennessey coordinates all of the events and oversees all operations. After the Deluxe's opening, there will be many nights throughout the week when all three venues (the Egyptian Room, the Murat Theatre, and Deluxe) will be holding events at once. Add the Amber Room to the mix, and the Old National Centre will be always hopping.
Hennessey claims that the Live Nation staff at the Old National Centre is the best group he's ever worked with.
“You're only as good as the people around you, and the people I have around me are fantastic,” said Hennessey.
Over and over throughout my interviews, the Old National staff insisted how much the venue workers felt like a family.
“My wife works here, we bring our dogs to work; it's just a family,” said Hennesey, of the Old National Centre environment (an Australian shepherd is an interesting sight to see in the lobby of the lush theatre, but he seemed very at home there).
Their insistence to expound upon the local, almost home-grown nature, of the Centre spoke to a recurring issue for the company.
Live Nation has faced increasing amounts of criticism for their domination of the music industry. Fears of a monopoly also led the executives of the company to stand in a judicial hearing for the US Senate to defend their 2009 merger with Ticketmaster.
But the opening of the Amber Room and Deluxe speaks to a supposed change in the company.
“We've realized we need to be more locally focused, to invest in the community more,” said Hennessey.