A long, dark room, filled with dense fog, illuminated only by sparse red lights. Angular, bass-heavy dance music emanating from a hallway leading to the back. Sharply dressed 20- and 30-somethings wearing all black, sipping Champagne and exotic cocktails with mysterious names: "the Cloak" and "the Dagger."
It's a scene you might expect in an uber-hip underground club in Paris, New York or Berlin. But it's a local monthly event called Cloak+Dagger, the brainchild of designer, DJ and promoter Elias Théroux. The party — held on the first Tuesday of each month — takes place at the Bends, a downtown St. Pete hotspot that's virtually unrecognizable once Théroux and company take over.
"I'm trying to facilitate a new kind of partying experience for people in the Tampa Bay area," Théroux said. "I see the city growing at an exceptional rate in so many ways, especially in respect to those in hospitality. Despite that, there seems to be a disconnect between the social/cultural structure of the city and these many new places that have cropped up. There really aren't many places you can go to have a truly immersive experience of this caliber that I can think of."
And it is immersive. For Cloak+Dagger, Théroux's crew replaces all of the house lights with red bulbs, blacks out the windows, shuts off the TVs and fills the room with fog. A special cocktail list is made for each event, including the titular libations, as well as a separate, unique cocktail that changes every month. Even if you're a Bends regular, it feels like you're stepping into a completely unfamiliar place.
Théroux and Bends co-owner Matt Kaye both have backgrounds in the New York City nightlife scene, making the Bends Théroux's ideal venue for Cloak+Dagger. It's small, intimate and frequented by the type of crowd that isn't necessarily opposed to stepping out of the ordinary bar and club experience.
To Théroux, this is an opportunity to challenge his audience as well as offer the kind of experience that hasn't yet established a foothold in the local nightlife scene.
"One of my core goals … is to help introduce people in Tampa Bay to new and unique musical experiences," Théroux said. "I'd say my view on new music also ties into my views and practices as a promoter. I always knew I wanted to promote things that I would actually want to participate in, as an outsider looking in."
Théroux's approach has paid off, as Cloak+Dagger's run is wrapping its first year, with a one-year anniversary party at the Bends tonight. In the meantime, a sister party called Smoke+Mirrors has branched off from the original, taking place every Thursday night at Anise Global Gastrobar in downtown Tampa.
Smoke+Mirrors has many similarities with Cloak+Dagger: An immersive experience with a highly unified aesthetic; a rotating cadre of guest DJs and professional photographers; unique branded cocktails for the night; and an impossibly hip vibe that's part art show, part late-night rager and part upscale cocktail club. In other words: Anything but the typical DJs-in-a-bar dynamic.
The music matches the aesthetic. It's forward-thinking, slick and maybe a little dark. Chopped-up, indecipherable vocal samples stab between piano chords and a thumping bass drum. Crisp high-hats form a syncopated pattern over a wave of sound. It's sexy, challenging, and futuristic. No one is playing top-40 crowd-pleasers. And somehow, it works.
While Théroux is celebrating the first year of Cloak+Dagger and the newer success of Smoke+Mirrors, he isn't showing any signs of slowing down. There's a market for this kind of thing, and Théroux has plans for more.
"I don't want to give away too much too fast as I think a lot of the fun is getting people excited about what they have to look forward to," he said. "I guess you could say I have big ambitions for the future but for now I'm just happy to see the landscape of Tampa changing underneath our feet."