Frill Seekers

The nightclub business requires a sharp eye for trends. Once everyone’s made the scene, the scene starts to lose its allure, which might explain why the typical lifespan for a cutting-edge club is five years. In 1990 Cal Fortis and Ken Smith opened the vast club Ka-Boom! in River West, then went on to create the “postindustrial” dance club Crobar. There will always be clubbers who want nothing more than a big, noisy space where they can drink and dance, but Smith and Fortis think they know where the train is headed, and they’re hopping on. Glow, which will replace the duo’s fizzled Vinyl at 1615 N. Clybourn, will be a service-driven, upscale “boutique” club. The plush, two-story operation will feature both a dance floor and a menu of sophisticated snacks: petrossian beluga caviar, baked triple-cream brie, escargot en croute, a lump-crab-and-lobster club sandwich, and the traditional French croque monsieur. “Chicagoans have become much more discerning in their entertainment decisions,” says Smith. “Though it might sound like a cliche, Glow was created in anticipation of what guests will demand in the next century: VIP-level decor, service, and comfort.”

Guests will enter Glow through a narrow foyer where they can view themselves on a video monitor. The ground-floor room will be paneled in mahogany and dominated by a large bar with copper trim and glass panels that will glow in different shades of deep blue. The perimeter of the vaulted ceiling will also glow, and monitors set into the walls will air a variety of silent video images. A sweeping stairway with blue floor lights, flanked on one side by a towering, cobalt-blue-lighted Plexiglas sculpture, will ascend to a catwalk, where a DJ will spin records, and then to the second floor, where a 12-foot mirror angled above the staircase will allow guests on either floor to inspect the scene in the other space. On the second floor guests can hang out in a slightly smaller room filled with overstuffed lounge furniture in shades of green, brown, and burgundy.

Smith and Fortis may think they’re making a dramatic statement about the future of the nightclub business, but they’re hardly pioneers. Visitors to their club may be reminded of Narcisse, a two-year-old champagne and caviar bar in River North whose manager, Jason Clark, jumped ship to help the two entrepreneurs polish their concept for Glow. “I don’t think copying another club concept is the best way to go about things,” says Narcisse owner Kathryn Alvera. Jerry Kleiner, the veteran nightclub and restaurant operator who opened the dance club Shelter at 564 W. Fulton when the west Loop was a wasteland, will unveil his own intimate, upscale lounge later this year in the booming Randolph Street corridor.

The opening of Glow marks the tenth anniversary of Big Time Productions, the nightlife company Smith and Fortis formed when they opened Ka-Boom! (their offices now occupy the site of the old club). Last month they also opened Watusi, a restaurant at 1540 W. North in Bucktown. Their partner in the new eatery is Suzy Crofton, the acclaimed young chef known for Crofton on Wells. At Watusi she’ll oversee a menu of West Indies-inspired dishes.

Kohlmetz Hits the Road

Roadworks Productions has lost a key member of its administrative staff: for personal reasons, managing director Phil Kohlmetz resigned last month, leaving artistic director Debbie Bisno and associate artistic director Shade Murray in charge of the theater company. Bisno doesn’t know how long the board of directors might take to find a replacement, though she expects to begin interviewing candidates this week. During his four-year tenure Kohlmetz was the low-key glue holding together the high-energy company as it lurched from hits like Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia to bombs like James Finney Boylan’s The Planets. He helped secure the company’s spacious new headquarters at 1144 W. Fulton Market and raised enough money to win a two-year matching grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; Kohlmetz was also instrumental in expanding the company’s board of directors and bringing in Sprint and American Airlines as the company’s first corporate sponsors.

One of Kohlmetz’s last achievements at Roadworks was opening its current production of John C. Russell’s Stupid Kids at the Victory Gardens Studio Theater. The play had been produced in New York City, but because it was in development as a movie property, Roadworks had to fight tooth and nail for the rights. “The powers-that-be in New York didn’t want another production,” says Murray. “They were afraid it would be poorly received and jinx negotiations.” Robert Vaughn, head of licensing for Dramatists’ Play Service, helped Roadworks cut a deal; its production runs through June 20. Plans are also moving forward for the film, which will be produced by Danny DeVito for Universal; Michael Mayer, who staged the New York production, will direct.

Classical Gas

The Ravinia Festival begins its summer season this Thursday, and Jean Oelrich, director of marketing and communications, has good news. Following increased promotional and marketing efforts last year, pavilion ticket sales for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra jumped 16 percent, an encouraging development after several seasons of flat or declining figures. And lawn ticket sales are up 38 percent. In the past year, focus groups of 25- to 44-year-olds have revealed that the lawn is port of entry for classical-music neophytes. “People tend to introduce their friends to classical music as part of a social outing,” says Oelrich. This summer, promotions like “Bring a Date to the CSO” will target young adults, and the festival’s Web site ( is soliciting members for a “Cyber-Club” that will E-mail them information about upcoming concerts and last-minute ticket promotions. According to Oelrich, the club has already signed up 7,000 people.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.