It’s been years since I last pulled into 1700 E. Flamingo Road. I bet many longtime residents can say the same. In its day, SRO was a hot spot for after-work (read: till-dawn) partying. This was more than a decade ago, and I’ve quite cleaned up my act. But on a recent drizzly evening I parked alongside the other few cars in the dark lot and toured the space soon to reopen as TRU Afterhours.
Operator Peter Arabo’s Disco Group is a new company, but the former DJ’s history goes deep in and around Detroit. That’s where, until two years ago, Arabo owned and operated popular nightspots including Envy, Plan B, Confidential, Centre Street and Vision. Taking on TRU (it stands for The Real Underground) is a sort of coming circle for Arabo, who modeled his first venture in 2001, Envy, after Chicago’s underground scene.
When the owner (only referred to as Mr. Saeed) of the former SRO building contacted Arabo, the timing was perfect. “I was hitting home runs in the minor leagues,” Arabo says. “And I wanted to come play with the big boys.”
When it opens—tentatively March 27—the venue formerly home to SRO and Club 702, among other concepts, will be a work in progress. While the entry hall, main room and restrooms have been stunningly renovated to 2015 standards, a second room awaits a permanent Funktion-One sound system (for now Arabo will rent one), and the expansive patio that fronts Flamingo needs drastic attention. Profits from the club will all, for a time, be reinvested, so that the building will be effectively supporting its own rebirth.
The TRU experience begins when you see that familiar baseball-diamond-shaped marquee, which will remain as such, since its size would not be approved today, Arabo says. A video screen will be added for increased visibility. Inside, a lavishly tiled hall leads to the ticket kiosk and to the central hall that connects both rooms. Ahead, the main room is ready to party with an Avalon EAW sound system with Crown amps and a raised stage for the DJ and dancers.
Surrounding the hardwood dance floor are two levels of black leather VIP booths with corresponding onyx-topped bottle-service tables—all of the same quality on which you’ll find A-listers dancing in clubs on the Strip.
On the perimeter, a long main bar and raised VIP bar await patrons, as does the bar in the more intimate secondary “Chill Room.” Plans call for an expansion of the parking lot and for the patio to become a whimsical nod to Alice in Wonderland. “We would apply for a special land-use permit,” Arabo says, “and do some type of festival, bring in food trucks, bring in the big talent and do outdoor events during the pool season.” Even further out, Arabo envisions TRU becoming a nationwide brand, with outposts on Sunset Boulevard, in Chicago and, of course, Detroit.
Security being a concern, Arabo has installed 48 high-definition video cameras, more lights in the parking lot, a curbside valet and a licensed, insured security team.
Assisting Arabo in all things lighting, sound and programming is creative director Neil Kull, formerly lighting director of Light Group and a veteran of the Chicago underground scene with 23 years of nightlife industry experience. “It’s a 360-degree omnidirectional show, a more traditional nightclub style that immerses the audience from all sides,” Kull says of what he’s created for TRU. “These days, everything is moving toward a single focal point—i.e., a stage—forcing the audience to only look in one direction. Problem is, those shows lose cohesion when you’re not in direct line of sight. TRU’s show will look complete from every point of view in the room. The audience becomes the star.”
Assisting Kull with talent is promoter Utopia, who specializes in desert parties and underground music festivals. Their aim is to establish an inclusive, artistic underground vibe as the baseline, with a wild, costumed and themed desert-style music fest each weekend. Already on board are resident DJs Vixen and David Serrano.
Opening the same month as the Hakkasan Group behemoth Omnia in Caesars Palace, TRU presents a counterpoint to what is being offered on the Strip. Plans are for TRU Afterhours to open Friday and Saturday, from midnight till about 8 a.m., with live broadcasts by the Pulse 96.7-FM from midnight till 2 a.m. Mondays and Tuesdays aimed at the industry crowd. The remaining days and times will be filled with corporate buyouts.
As for the music, expect deep underground and tech house with what Kull calls “moments” embracing dubstep, drum and bass, jungle and trap. In case you’re not up on your lingo, underground, Arabo says, is “the sound that is not being played on the radio.” Utopia adds, “It’s the underground music community that really brings people together, and if it’s done right, it can bring them from the desert into the city.”
And maybe off the Strip, as well.