Berkeley is saturated with places to eat and drink, but conspicuously missing is a place to dance afterwards. Soon that will change, when a nightclub called Berkeley Underground opens this weekend in the basement space at 2284 Shattuck Ave.
Owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro, who also own BUILD Pizzeria upstairs, envision a multi-purpose venue that will one night host an internationally known electronic dance music act, and the next a private bar mitzvah party.
“This needed to be something that would marry the idea of being a fun club that people would go to in the evenings, as well as being a live performance venue for all those bands and music artists and comedians that don’t really have a place to go,” Holt said. “If you’re going to go to the [Berkeley] Rep, you need to fill 1,000 seats. And it’s just seats – there’s no milling around or dance floor.”
The husband-and-wife team has already booked some artists who will have no trouble packing the place, such as British dubstep DJ CASPA, who will play Friday, and secret comedy acts they promise are quite famous. There have been several private parties and special events already.
This is not the space’s first stint as a nightclub. First it was Mr. E’s Jazz Club, a salsa spot owned by musician Pete Escovedo. Then, beginning in 2001, it was the Shattuck Down Low, a popular nightclub that featured local artists. When Holt and Shapiro decided to rent both the upstairs and downstairs units in 2012, the Shattuck Down Low was shuttered, to disappointment of many club-goers. The couple always had plans to open a club downstairs, but focused on getting Build up and running first, Holt said.
Prior to opening the pizzeria, Holt and Shapiro had a hotel and resort company based in LA. Holt has worked in hospitality for years, while Shapiro was a touring jazz musician.
Holt is the designer in the duo, and she has transformed the 10,000 square foot space into a sleek lounge, with a glittering chandelier, leather “VIP seating” framing the dance floor, and throne-like chairs in the back. The empty picture frames that hang on one wall will soon showcase 3D-mapped videos. Multi-colored lightshows are curated by Ed Dees, who has worked in production at a long list of Bay Area venues including Yoshi’s.
“I like to bring that big arena lighting, where you walk out and say, ‘That lighting blew my mind,’” he said. “I want to do that here because it’s accessible. It’s not a $60 ticket, drive for an hour.”
There are bars on either side of the room, which will serve East Bay-themed cocktails, craft beer on tap, and, eventually, wine on tap. The management team, led by Jacob Peltoniemi, will bring in a few bartenders, but there will be additional job openings in the coming weeks.
The couple expects the club to be a big draw for Cal students, but hopes to cater to a varied crowd throughout the week. Monday will likely be a dedicated “music industry night,” where keyboardist Shapiro will lead a house band, and all local musicians will be welcome to play. The cover charge at Berkeley Underground will range from $5-$20 depending on the event, and the bigger acts will come with pricier tickets
“Here’s the deal. We really want there to be something for everybody,” Shapiro said. “It’ll be really eclectic.”
Of all the existing venues in the East Bay, Holt names the New Parish in Oakland as the most comparable to her vision for Berkeley Underground. There’s a similar mix of dancing and booked acts, and of genres, she said.
Circulation is inevitable between the club and the restaurant upstairs. A private party at the Berkeley Underground might end just in time for dinner — or restaurant customers might head downstairs after to dance off the calories.
Given the big names on the bill so far, it’s clear that “Underground” refers not to the nature of the music it’ll host – just to the special physical space.
“When you come below grade, there’s a feeling of intimacy, a feeling of being closer to your friends,” Holt said. “We wanted to create that vibe.”
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