It's almost midnight in the middle of the week, but VrSi shows no signs of slowing down. Even though it is only a friends and family preview ahead of the public debut the next night, a couple of hundred people arrive to get a first look at the Midtown nightclub from former Roak owners Jeff Barati and Andy Aweida.
A friend opines that after only 90 minutes she already likes it better than Clé, the Midtown nightclub on Main Street that's made a splash since it opened this summer. Why not? Every aspect of VrSi (pronounced like Versailles) has been carefully designed to impress its patrons, particularly the wraparound video board that displays a constantly moving series of graphics that move with the music.
"We wanted to have that Old World feel and create a New World experience," partner Lui Guzman tells CultureMap. "Instead of going with something that is safe, we wanted to step beyond our limits. Where we think we would stop because something was too gaudy, we went beyond that."
Guzman and Barati see VrSi as different from Roak, a sprawling space that was well-known for its pool but found itself embroiled in controversy before closing to make way for an upcoming Kirby Complex mixed-use development.
"We’re more focused on service. We’re much more focused on the finishes," Guzman says. "Our crowd over the years keep getting older as we’ve gotten older. I think they appreciate the finer things and what we’ve given them here."
For examples, patrons who order champagne have it presented by at least two gold cocktail dress-wearing servers who arrive with the bottle and sparklers. Creating that sense of occasion is at the heart of the experience, because the prices aren't cheap. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label costs $250 while more expensive Dom Perginon 2004 Luminous costs $1,000.
Partner Steven Salazar, whose resume includes stints at Kata Robata and Anvil, has helped curate the wine list and spirits list. Of course, it includes the usual vodkas (Ketel One, Stolichnaya, etc), but Salazar has also sought out more boutique spirits like Tequila Ocho ($450), Ron Zacapa 23-year old rum ($450) and E.H. Taylor single barrel bourbon ($850).
A highly coveted bottle of black tot rum, the spirit issued to British sailors until 1970, lists for an astonishing $6,000. Salazar's influence extends to the cocktails, which will use Topo Chico mineral water, Fever Tree club soda and freshly squeezed juices rather than a soda gun or mixes.
Those who purchase bottles get access to the tables, which provide the prime spots to see and be seen. While asking about minimums is never a good idea in this world, VrSi offers two different $1,500 packages, one with Belvedere vodka and three bottles of Clicquot Yellow Label and another with Makers Mark bourbon and two bottles of Clicquot La Grande Dame, that are designed to keep a party of eight satisfied for an evening.
Securing a table requires a reservation, which can be tricky for newcomers. VrSi doesn't have a website (but is on Facebook). It may sound a little old fashioned, but Barati and Guzman prefer to know their customers in advance. They attribute their success to their ability to provide a respite from reality.
"Rarely will there be a table that we don’t have some sort of relationship with them. If the individual isn’t someone we know, they were probably referred to us by someone we know," Guzman says.
"We will have a door fee," Barati adds. "The focus is on getting reservations and getting tables. It’s always more fun when you’re with your friends. It’s always more fun when you get to meet others. What we do is we offer the opportunity to meet others while you have your friends."
Speaking of door fees, keeping an eye on who comes in is one of Guzman's responsibilities. While he demurs when asked about whether VrSi will publish its dress code, he says he knows what he's looking for when it comes to letting people inside.
"If someone has a certain demeanor, that’s what we’re looking for. If someone has had too much to drink, it doesn’t matter who it is. That goes against what we do," he says. "We want to keep a safe environment. That’s very important to us."
Hopefully that combination of intelligence and experience allows VrSi to avoid the controversy that's surrounded Midtown nightclub Gaslamp; three African American attorneys accused that club of violating federal non-discrimination laws when bounced told them to pay a coverage charge they did not seek from white patrons. They filed a lawsuit seeking monetary damages from the club in October.
Of course, those seeking a more inexpensive experience may want to consider Wooster's Garden, which is another property in the group's portfolio. The Midtown bar features a diverse selection of wine, beer and spirits without a door fee, a dress code or a valet stand. During the week, one might even find Guzman or Barati speaking to customers. Seems like a good way to get to know them.