When BUILD Pizzeria owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro opened their Downtown Berkeley restaurant, they intended to use the space beneath to open a nightclub. In mid November, their goal will finally be realized at the grand opening of Berkeley Underground, located at 2284 Shattuck Ave. “There are many places around Downtown Berkeley to go to hang out, but there isn’t really anywhere to go for a true party,” Holt said. “We wanted to create a nice place for people to go for a good time.”
This is not the first time the space has been used as a club. In the 1980s, the spot was Mr. E’s, a jazz club. Later, it became the Shattuck Down Low, a hip-hop club. Now, with Berkeley Underground, Holt and Shapiro look forward to the fun times to be had in the space once again. “Downtown Berkeley is a thriving place,” Holt said. “You should not you have to drive all the way across the bay into SF to dance and have a good time.”
Empty at midday, except for employees hard at work getting ready for another soft opening, the excitement in the room is still tangible. Ed Dees, the man behind the sound and lights, enthusiastically shows off his array of lighting. Having worked for 35 years in production and theater at venues including the SAP Center and Yoshi’s and for artists such as Ray Charles, Etta James, BB King and James Brown, he looks forward to creating the feel of an arena show but in a more accessible setting. In the coming months, he will also be helping to set up a state of the art 3-D video projection mapping system, which will tentatively be up and running in December.
“We’ll be able to make the walls disappear,” Holt said with a big smile. “One second, you’ll be dancing in a nightclub — the next, the walls will appear to be a starry night or an ocean floor.” They have decorated one of the walls with empty, black picture frames. Once the system is running, they will be able to fill the frames with movies, videos, sporting events and classic artwork, changing the projections to suit the mood.
An architect as well as a businessperson, Holt points out the brick walls and earthquake beams. Still displaying its original facade on the upper floors, the building was designed by Dickey and Reed in 1906, the same architectural firm that designed the Claremont Hotel. Wanting to respect the history and design of the building, now a historic Berkeley landmark, they made sure to incorporate the raw structure of the building into the room’s decor, a mix between vintage steam punk and modern glamor.
Although they are still in the process of pulling everything together to complete their vision, Holt and Shapiro have an already-impressive club. Walking down the staircase into the nightclub, you are slowly transported from the urban sprawl to a lustrous, new world. Underground lies a large dance floor, spaces with modish tables and chairs, two full bars and numerous comfortable booths and armchairs. The bars are all complete with the same array of local beers on tap that are available upstairs in the pizzeria. In December, their “Ultrabar” will also have wines on tap as does the pizzeria. In the meantime, you can relax on one of the numerous plush couches, arm chairs and VIP booths, awaiting bottle service.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Berkeley Underground will typically be a 21+ dance club. Cover charges will vary with the event. Some nights will be free, but most will range from $10 to $20. “Lemonade” night, an 18+ EDM-themed dance event, will be held on Sundays. There will be a dress code, which the owners assure will be very basic, meant to keep up the party atmosphere and not to force anyone into heels or a tie. Also, on most nights, pizza will be available as late as 2 a.m., when the club closes. It will not be the same as the pizza upstairs at BUILD, which is meant to be eaten from a plate. The variety offered in the nightclub will have a thicker crust, more akin to a Roman street pizza, so that party goers may eat while walking.
“We’re very excited to host world-touring DJs,” Shapiro said. “CASPA will be playing here in mid November. I can’t tell you everyone else who we’ll have for shows here, but it’s going to be great.” Shapiro is in a good position to bring big names to Berkeley, as he worked in the Los Angeles music industry for more than 20 years, during the 1980s and 1990s.
Holt and Shapiro have not finished deciding the themes of the other nights of the week, but they eagerly shared what they have thought up so far. On Monday nights, different local bands playing contemporary jazz and rock music will be showcased. They also hope to put together a house jazz band. Either Tuesday or Wednesday nights will most likely be salsa nights. Thursdays will be UC Berkeley-oriented. There will also be nights with open mic and karaoke, comedy shows, games and other live performances. Some Friday and Saturday nights will be themed. Approaching is “Glitz and Gore Night” on Halloween. When all is determined, they will probably be open six nights a week, maybe seven.
“It will definitely be Cal student friendly,” Holt said. “There will be many nights with Cal student discounts, so always bring your student ID card. Specials may include lower or waived cover charges, drink discounts and other deals. We could also show Cal games using the 3-D video projection. Likely, we’ll be open some afternoons for football game viewings and such. We are also open to hosting private campus and student events, graduation parties, fraternity and sorority invites, club socials, talks — whatever people are interested in.” With their restaurant directly above the nightclub, they could easily cater events as well.
While the grand opening is still a few weeks away, soft openings began at the beginning of October. The Berkeley Underground is currently open from Thursday to Sunday — from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. — and is already hosting private events. More information can be found at www.berkeley-underground.com.