Orpheum gets a new home and loses its sweaty glow

Melony Torres, left, and Amanda Willhite try to work up a sweat on the dance floor at the Orpheum’s new — and much, much cooler — location in Ybor City. The hair and makeup still look good, ladies.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Melony Torres, left, and Amanda Willhite try to work up a sweat on the dance floor at the Orpheum’s new — and much, much cooler — location in Ybor City. The hair and makeup still look good, ladies.

The air outside the Orpheum was thick and heavy and categorically summer.

Melony Torres wore a black dress, black combat boots and a black cardigan over her shoulders. Her makeup was perfect, pink gloss gleaming, eyelashes fanned. Two cherry vodka and Sprites and she'd be ready for the ritual of the thousands who invade Ybor City seeking freedom by jamming into a room.

The sweater could prove problematic later, but there was a well-oiled routine for this. She would shed it and tie the sleeves to the strap of her purse. She would take the strategic hair band from her wrist and gather her long locks off her damp neck. She would dab her face, never smear.

And if it came to a sweaty end, she would own it.

• • •

It's Florida in summer. We're hot, but we're not dead. We still want to go out.

The issue of temperature in a club is a delicate one. Nobody wants to sweat off makeup. But heat can be a crucial element of hedonism, a release of hormones and scents and we're-in-this-together abandon. Sweat is a great equalizer.

"The drunker they get, the sweatier they get, and they don't care," said Russ Fuller, a crowd photographer at the Orpheum.

The Orpheum was born more than 10 years ago on Avenida Republica de Cuba. It was a small bar and concert venue with busted sofas, cheap drinks and sticky floors. It was known for two things:

Trashy bathrooms.

Broken air-conditioning.

"We were on the opposite end of town, which may not be seemingly as cool and hip," said owner Dave Hundley. "But we were part of the cool and hip crowd to begin with. There was a charm to the old place, even with the nasty couches and the pool table we use to have over in the corner. Most all that stuff got trashed."

The club attracted the Converse and Pabst Blue Ribbon sector too hip for mainstream clubs but too jazzed to sit home. On Saturday nights, DJs Rig and Noi mixed the indie sounds of Peter Bjorn and John with blockbusters by Lady Gaga and grinding '90s throwbacks from Ginuwine.

People lined around the block to get in. They saw bands like Modest Mouse, Fiery Furnaces and one time, the Jonas Brothers. Their hair matted to their heads. The next morning, they posted the photos on Facebook, drenched and utterly blissful.

Sometimes, the staff forgot to turn off the single air-conditioning unit and returned to find the system burned out. Other times, the air worked fine — if everyone was standing still.

"The old place got hot," said Hundley. "There was no doubt. The capacity there was 300. At any venue, the air-conditioning is only set up to take care of a normal crowd that's sitting down and doing nothing. If you get them up and moving, you generate heat."

For certain places, that can jibe.

"It depends on the type of clientele you're looking to pull into the establishment," said Michael Bilello, owner of Centurion Strategies, who has planned events in nearly every Tampa Bay club. "We all genuflect on our days in college or high school going to Ybor for the first time, coming out and your shirt is completely soaked."

Sometimes, heat is a careful element. Centurion hosted a party at the Playboy mansion, where the goal was to get everyone jumping in the pool. Hotter the better.

When you're dealing with visiting celebrities, it's about catering. When the Smashing Pumpkins and Bush played at the Ritz Ybor, lead singers Billy Corgan and Gavin Rossdale demanded the air-conditioning be turned off, said Okesene Tilo, the Ritz's spokesman. "They said it would hurt their vocals," Tilo said. "We kind of try to go around that and have the air on where it wouldn't blow on stage. Some of these hot concerts, it's not even a request, it's an ultimatum."

In June, the Orpheum closed its old location to make way for a cigar bar. Hundley got a good deal on a Seventh Avenue space along Ybor's bustling drag. The Orpheum would take over a hip-hop club called Temple Lounge.

The new place was huge, with an upstairs balcony and large bathrooms. It had four 15-ton air-conditioning units that operated on timers.

It was cold.

Hundley chose to keep the look low-key, the music basically the same. He'd try to appeal to the crowd on Seventh while staying loyal to his base. The air-conditioning was a bonus. With luck, the charm wouldn't blow away.

On the last night at the old Orpheum, fans came to bid goodbye.

"I'll never forget it," Hundley said.

They danced until 2:45 a.m., when employees brought out hoses and drenched everyone in the place with cool water.

• • •

"Party Rock!" said Torres, 24. "Party Rock!"

The song was by LMFAO and Torres was stoked. She's the evening DJ on Play 98.7, and loves any kind of music. She swung her hair and jumped around. She went to the upstairs bar with friends, back down, to the bathroom, back to the dance floor. At 2 a.m., she danced near a podium, where a dozen people crammed together under a disco ball.

Her cardigan stayed on. Her hair stayed down.

"I feel normal," she said.

She went back into the crowd glazed with a soft glow.

Orpheum gets a new home and loses its sweaty glow 07/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011 1:10pm]

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