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.
There isn't a more high-profile local DJ duo than Hogan and Larner. Both have been booking and performing in Indy for almost a decade.
The pair has been operating Keepin' It Deep, the city's longest running weekly house music dance party, since 2003. They've also hosted hundreds of successful events in the city. In 2011 alone, they've promoted big name artists including Erasure, Skrillex, LMFAO, Green Velvet, and Pretty Lights. They also promoted the I.D. Festival in August and operated a successful house music record label, Muzique Boutique, since 2003. On that label, they released albums and remixes from Derrick Carter, Stacy Kidd, and JT Donaldson, among many others.
“Our goal with Muzique Boutique was to bring house music to a global audience,” said Larner.
Indeed, their releases have developed a large international following.
After a successful record label and hundreds of evens, the jump to a venue made sense for the partners.
“[Our involvement at the Amber Room] really came together naturally, and we couldn't be happier,” said Hogan.
“We're both very interested in the time period, and intrigued by the history of the original Amber Room,” said Larner. “We're intrigued by the mystery, the secretiveness.”
The original Amber Room, for which the lounge is named, is indeed mysterious. Backed with gold leaf and mirrors, and covered with amber panes, the room was in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, just outside Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was built in the first decade of the 1700s; it was considered so beautiful that it was often called the Eighth Wonder of the modern world.
Centuries later, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, those responsible for protecting Russian art attempted to remove the treasures from the room. It was too fragile to move, however, and although an attempt was made to wallpaper the room to disguise it, it was dismantled in just over a day by Nazi soldiers.
The Amber Room was never seen again.
That the Indy Amber Room looks similar to a mid-century bomb shelter is no accident: Hogan and Larner planned it that way. Windowless, long and narrow, the room feels almost like a British tube station, except far more luxurious.
“We are embracing an art-deco vibe for the Amber Room,” said Hogan.
Larner and Hogan were inspired during tours in Europe by the mid-century architecture and have put months of thought into the space, including what a typical night will be like for the patrons.
“In the beginning of the night, it will have a chill, classy vibe. We'll be showing old movies and serving signature cocktails,” said Hogan.
The pair plans to have different kinds of absinthe available, as well. They may even install absinthe fountains, which will allow several different absinthe drinks to be prepared at once. Other, more secretive plans are also in the works, but Hogan and Larner are keeping mum for now.
“Bottle service will be available, but we'll also have a selection of beers for low prices,” said Larner.
They'll be playing the music of Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan in the early evenings.
“We want this to be a place where anyone can come and feel welcome. The Amber Room will be unique, inviting, and elegant, but not pretentious,” he said.
Later in the evening, the music will transfer to upbeat indie rock and pop.
“We'll play music to get people dancing, like MGMT, Cut Copy, Cold War Kids, Phoenix and Interpol,” said Larner.
Even later, dance music will fill the room.
“The end of the night will be an open-format dance, so it really could be everything from '80s to '90s to underground dance to current top 40 pop remixes. TheÂ beautyÂ of open format is it really could be anything, as long as its dance-y,” said Larner.
New Year's Eve
The last night of the year will be one of the first nights for the Amber Room and Deluxe.
Hogan and Larner expected to open the Amber Room for regular business starting on New Year's Eve, but unforeseen complications pushed the date back to late January. However, they will still be hosting a New Year's Eve party. In fact, they'll be hosting two parties: one in Deluxe and one in the Amber Room.
On New Year's Eve, Bearded Flower Productions and My Old Kentucky Blog are hosting one of their biggest events of the year, a Nuclear New Year's Eve. The event will take place in Deluxe, and is expected to sell out.
A diverse lineup of bands is scheduled for the New Year's Eve, headlined by Indianapolis musical giants, Margot and the Nuclear So and So's.
“There's obviously an energy that manifests itself quickly, and violently, at a NYE show," said Richard Edwards, of Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. "People are stoked for the night. They've looked forward to it for a multitude of reasons. Luckily, the bands inherit that energy."
Margot, who underwent some line up changes recently, is also using the show as an unofficial release party. They'll release a 7'' with a song from their upcoming record and a b-side from the same sessions.
“We made a record a few months ago at Steve Albini's space in Chicago, and in a space we share with some folks in town. The record doesn't come out until March, but we were starting to get antsy about people hearing the music,” said Edwards. “It seemed like a good time to release a song from the record.”
Bloomington newcomers Memory Map are actually not that new at all. The band is a supergroup of sorts, with members culled from other, older Bloomington bands.
They've got two new recording projects in the works. One is an EP that will contain three songs sung in Japanese; singer Matthew Tobey is also a professor of Japanese language studies, and also a member of Good Luck.
Other members include Michael Dixon, of Prayer Breakfast, Josh Morrow, of Impure Jazz, and Mike Bridavsky of Push-Pull.
Their new album will come out in fall 2012, or, “right before the Apocalypse,” Bridavsky said to NUVO in May.
This is Bridavsky's first New Year's Eve performance. We asked him what he was expecting.
“I'm guessing there will be more drunk people than usual, wearing fancier clothes than usual, and probably in a better mood than usual,” said Bridavsky, of the evening.
West Lafayette punk rockers Vacation Club have quickly built a reputation in Indianapolis for raucous performances.
Edwards commented on his fondness for Vacation Club's unorthodox style.
“Tyler, our bass player, brought me one of their 45s in Chicago, and it was wrapped in some sort of skateboard grip tape (so as not to ruin the two records shelved on either side of it). I thought that was pretty neat, and it made me nostalgic for my own devil-may-care early-mid 20s,” said Edwards.
(Speaking of devil-may-care-itude, when Vacation Club was asked about their latest tour, they described activities including hunting sand crabs, worshiping the sun, joining cults and stealing animal body parts.)
John Rambo and the Vietnam Wars will join the New Year's Eve lineup in Deluxe. They've got fans in Edwards.
“I've loved Tony Beamer's music for a long time, and loved his John Rambo project when they played with us a year ago. Tony is a very dark, seductive figure on stage,” said Edwards. “[There are] not a whole lot of front men here that [can] pull off his particular vibe, which you probably just need to see to understand. They have the coolest bass player in town [with Zuckerman].”
DJ duo A-Squared Productions will be bouncing between both parties.
The Amber Room will have several DJ sets, including ones by Larner and Hogan themselves. DJ B Qwyatt and will join them.
Patrons can reserve tables in advance, which includes bottle service, hors d'oeuvres and a champagne toast at midnight.
Grand Opening Plans
Although the Amber Room and Deluxe have not officially opened under the control of Larner and Hogan, a series of soft openings have built a significant buzz around the space.
Bands have been performing, albeit extremely sporadically, in the space for almost six months. One of those artists was British bhangra master, Panjabi MC, with a show presented by Cultural Cannibals.
“I loved the venue. It's huge and has an amazing history. The room was lively and has a great vibe,” said Panjabi, of Deluxe. “I spoke to both Hogan and Larner. [and I] love their plans for the place.”
The Amber Room was scheduled to open for regular business on New Year's Eve. That date, however, has been pushed back to a date in the first few months of the year.
“We had thought about doing NYE as a grand opening but a lot of our friends andÂ familiesÂ work in the bar industry or haveÂ familyÂ commitments, and there is just no way they would be able to get the night off,” said Larner. He's pushing for an opening date of January, 21st, his birthday.
Although they won't be open during the holidays this year, they'll be up and running before the Super Bowl.
“We have said all along that when we did the grand opening we wanted to make sure we had everything just right. Â We don't want to rush it and open too soon and not put our best foot forward,” said Larner.
Plenty of people are already excited about visiting the venue. Molly Flynn, of Bearded Flower Productions, commented on the choice of venue for the New Year's Eve party.
“We’re definitely excited to see the reaction people are going to have when they see how visually stunning Deluxe at the Amber Room is in conjunction with the phenomenal lineup,” said Flynn.
The space already naturally included a VIP space, which coordinates with the VIP tickets available for the event. The VIP space overlooks the stage directly.
“Can you imagine a cooler place to see your favorite band?” said Hogan, sweeping his arm across the VIP area.
“We could not pass up the opportunity to help in bringing attention to this stunning room, and we think it embodies the attitude of our NYE show better than any other venue could,” said Flynn.
Hogan and Larner have used the already-beautiful Amber Room and Deluxe to create a very desirable venue for local artists.
“There is no venue like this in town,” said Flynn.
The headlining band is definitely excited for the evening.
“It's nice to feel that you were a part of a special night for each (or hopefully most) of the audience, to be the soundtrack to a bunch of bad decisions they will make that night. I like that,” said Edwards.