Thursday, April 26, 2007

How to Run a Moscow Nightclub

Divine providence led me to this excellent “biznes plan,” which suddenly reveals the point of this website and of creepily investing so much time and energy on the Moscow club scene: Club Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears. Do it once, and do it right! Revenue accrued from MDBIT t-shirt sales to Respublica isn’t going to cut it, so I kneel before thee, cap in hand. is now equipped for PayPal donations. (It also accepts Agent Provocateur e-vouchers. Charter an epic night on the town with me and Katie, hitting such at Moscow hotspots as Booze Bub, Krizis Zhanra and Propaganda, for only 300 lingerie bucks. Just drop the money it into the "" account — we'll divy up the underwear between ourselves later. A spot on Katie's fold-out couch afterwards may be had for 3 (three) Long Island Iced Teas. More info on all this to come.)

1. Initial Considerations
The annual turnover of the capital’s club industry is millions of dollars. Of the hundreds of clubs that are opened each year, approximately one-fifth survive. Those that make it can look forward to 20%-50% return on an average $500,000 investment. However, profitability is not directly linked to the amount of start-up capital. In other words, a club that costs $1 million to set-up can bomb just as easily as a $50,000 club.

"Let them Eat Cake." A return to pre-Revolutionary excess at Rai.

2. Location, Location, Location!
Put your club within the Koltso, because no one likes to travel. Especially if it’s targeted to the youth, it must be within easy access of the Metro. Cross any residential buildings off your list, because all it takes is one angry babushka calling the police to ruin the fun. Uninhabited buildings are the best option. (Mega-clubs Dyagilev and Rai, both housed in decrepit factories, studied this guide well.) Five years ago, you could rent space like this for $200 per square meter; now it’s more expensive and harder to come by. The upside is that you don’t have to do much with the premises except move out the cotton-webbed spinning jennies and set up a coat check station, bar and audio-visual equipment. Our biznes plan cannot stress this enough: it doesn’t matter how much you spend on the interior. “Institutions sell first of all their atmosphere,” so proceed to Step 3.

3. Strength of Personality
Take the money you would have spent on fancy design and find a good promoter, because 80% of a club’s success depends on him. According to Andrei Fomin, founder of the Night Life Awards, the promoter controls from everything to the music selection to the specific organization of the party. It’s his responsibility to throw a megaparty every night. This is different from the Western club model, in which the club is merely a container for parties, which are thrown by a rotating set of promoters. The promoter, who is also the manager and art director, plays the biggest role in shaping the club’s identity.

4. What Kind of Club are You?
There are three categories of Moscow clubs: elitny (elite), “democratic youth" and specialized (jazz, gay, etc.). The first option is the most difficult to get right, but offers the biggest potential pay-off. Our biznes plan refers to the case study of one of the first elitny clubs — Jazz Cafe, opened in 1998 by Yugoslav promoter Sinisha Lazarevich. He scrimped on the interior, directing funds instead at creating an atmosphere of “mysteriousness, bogemnosti, izbrannosti and elitarnosti.” How this is exactly accomplished can’t be explained on paper, though Garry Chaglasyan (XIII) develops the basic concept: “Customers are looking for comfort, luxury, decadence, novelty and a dynamic atmosphere, where no evening is the same as the next.” One way to foster exclusivity is to set prices high: $10 for a cup of coffee, $50 for a cocktail. And charging $200 for a $40 bottle of tequila turns a nice profit. The average customer spends $100 to $200 a night, meaning that the club can bring in $10,000 to $20,000 total per night.

Phoenix First.

Because elite Moscow’s is always searching for something hotter and fresher, this type of club has a short lifespan (under two years). Two ways of extending its life include shutting down and opening under the same name somewhere else, or shutting down for “repairs” for a period of time, then reopening to fanfare. (Last year, First combined both of these tactics: shutting down its popular Sofiiskaya Naberezhnaya venue, opening sucky First Stars by Fruzenskaya that made everyone reminisce about the good old days of First, then returning to its old home with a better sound system.) The plan warns that despite these heroic methods of resuscitation, it’ll never be as good as the first time.

The primary difficulty of an elitny club is you are catering to very small subset of the population, at most 5,000 people, which is hard to corner. While you can’t charge college kids as much for drinks, there are more of them (100,000 club-going 15-25 year olds in Moscow). Actually, the plan advises not trying to make money on alcohol at all in “democratic youth clubs” — the kids will be drunk when they get there (“the basic dose of alcohol enters the organism of clients even before the doors of club.”) Charge 150 rubles entry for a DJ on the weekend, and know that no one is going to pay anything on a weekday. Again, you don’t have to invest a lot of money in the interior, just a decent sound/light system.

Alternative livin' at FAQ Cafe.

There’s also money to be made on “non-traditional love.” According to our biznes plan’s stats, 7% of Moscow’s population is gay and 20% bisexual, and nightclubs are the places most people pick up. Plus, these people often travel with heterosexual friend support. You can make your club “gay” for a night by charging girls twice as much for entry. (Lesbians are not target clients.) Expenditures you might not think about are transvestite go-go dancers (hard to come by!) and the installation of a “dark room” where clients can be alone together.

4. Equipment
My eyes glazed over at this section. These are the fundamental prices you’re looking at: “central” lighting with special effects attached to the ceiling ($1,500-$2,000); scanners ($500-$1,500); spotlights (from $700); stroboscopes ($70-$250); UV lamp ($20); “dymmashina” (lights visible in manufactured smoke, from $80); disco ball ($40-$100); lasers (from $2,000); and bubble or artificial snow generators ($500-$1,000). Installation is generally 10% to 15% of the cost of the equipment.

5. Sneaky Barmen
These people can sabotage a bar’s profitability by skimming drinks. Install a camera to watch after them, and effect the “merciless release of all unconscientious colleagues.”

6. Get Known
It can take one to seven months for a club to be “discovered.” If you are targeting the shifty youth, flier the perekhods (underground passageways) where kids congregate and drink beer. Put special coupons in the fliers. The strategy is the exact opposite if its an elitny club, because you are trying to keep the undesirables out. In that case, follow the Gazgolder model: keep your club under wraps as long as possible.

Gazgolder: Yet to succumb to proletariat drift because no one knows where it is.

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