Shout Out


Palm Beach Post: Voltaire Opens in West Palm Beach

The 500 block of Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach gets a new live music venue when Voltaire launches this weekend with three free grand opening concerts. The new nightclub and lounge is tucked away above the recently revived hipster pool hall Lost Weekend.

Tonight (Aug. 24), catch Public Sounds Collective of West Palm Beach playing an eclectic mix of funk, jazz and soul. On Friday, Lake Worth art-punk band Dead and Loving It (featuring members of Chaucer and Problem Child) will host its album release party, joined by The Grumps (West Palm Beach) and Prison Warder (Miami). Saturday features Miami jazzy surf band Gold Dust Lounge.

All three shows are free and open to ages 21 and older. There will also be free drink tokens: Look for the wooden nickels with Voltaire’s face on them. Another special event is scheduled for Monday: The Salon No. 2 (a monthly ladies night) featuring Pocket of Lollipops from Miami and Chilean Slang from Delray Beach.

Votaire’s regular schedule will be Wednesdays through Sundays, opening at 8 p.m., says manager Steve Rullman. It will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays, unless there’s a special event or private party. The dark and cozy lounge, which includes a full bar, should be a perfect late-night chill spot. Closing time is 3 a.m. (or 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday).

There will be some concerts for ages 18 and older, Rullman said, but most nights will be for ages 21 and up. Voltaire will also have a sushi bar, and guests can also easily grab a drink or food downstairs at Lost Weekend.

While the intimate venue may be new, the building and its proprietors have a long history. The 526 Clematis St. space had been vacant for decades until South Florida restaurant and nightclub impresario Rodney Mayo snapped it up in 2011. He already owns several other buildings in the historic 500 block, and he’s a partner in five other restaurants and bars on the block (Lost Weekend, Respectable Street, Hullabaloo, Subculture Coffee, and Kapow Noodle Bar) as part of his Subculture Restaurant Group.

To manage Voltaire, Mayo brought in Rullman, a longtime leader in the South Florida music scene and editor/publisher of PureHoney magazine. Rullman’s roots in the scene, as well as his association with Mayo, go all the way back to the early 1990s. Rullman, a former musician, has promoted and booked concerts for Mayo’s various venues for decades. His latest venture is the annual Bumblefest (set for Sept. 2 in the 500 block of Clematis).

Rullman operated a performance and event venue called The Wormhole from 1994 to 1996 in the same building as the original Lost Weekend on Olive Avenue. The combination concert space, thrift shop and music/book store was on the ground floor while Lost Weekend was upstairs. Ironically, that’s now reversed with Rullman running Voltaire one floor above Lost Weekend.

The spaces are separated only by a stairwell, however. With shared ownership, it will make for a cohesive experience where guests of one bar can easily check out the other and enjoy the amenities of both. Like many of Mayo’s establishments, Voltaire follows a counterculture theme and was designed personally by the owner. “He loves putting together the rooms,” Rullman said. “Nobody really knows what he’s doing until he tells you what he’s doing.”

Named for the 18th century French satirist and philosopher who famously advocated for freedom of speech and civil liberties in his many writings, Voltaire the nightclub immediately evokes the feel of a speakeasy with its low ceiling and dim lighting. There are many couches spread around the room, which still features its original brick walls. The venue’s motto is the famous Voltaire quote, “Crush the infamy.”

Voltaire is “one of those names I’ve been wanting to use but never had a chance,” Mayo said last week while putting the finishing touches on the interior. “Now, here it is.” To say Mayo is “hands on” is an understatement. The owner was cutting wood and installing molding late into the night.

The room’s steampunk vibe is softened by Victorian-style ornamentation, drapes and lighting fixtures. The most striking feature is the collection of framed art by Allois, a surrealist painter from Los Angeles who Rullman discovered. “When Rodney told me what the theme was going to be, I knew instantly that her style would fit,” he said.

A large portrait of Voltaire will also hang above the stairway entrance. He’s simply “a cool dude,” Mayo said. “Our mascot of The Dubliner is Oscar Wylde,” he said, referring to the pub in Boca Raton co-owned with Scott Frielich. “I always pictured Oscar Wylde as a later period Voltaire. He’s part of the subculture.”

The subculture of the 500 block of Clematis Street includes several influential venues that are no longer with us: Ray’s Downtown and The Lounge. You can get a flavor of both when the guiding lights of these former bars join Voltaire in September with their own special nights. On Sundays, Ray Carbone will host Ray’s Downtown Blues night, while the Saturday night Cabaret Voltaire will feature drag shows curated by Jon Elu, former owner of The Lounge. The old sushi chef from The Lounge, Jack Kwong of Yellow Jack Sushi, will also run Voltaire’s full-time sushi program.

“It will be like a clubhouse for us old-timers,” Rullman said. “It’s kind of like The Wormhole meets Ray’s meets The Lounge meets Respectable Street.” Mayo’s original nightclub just two doors down at 518 Clematis St., the venerable Respectable Street celebrates its 30th anniversary in September with a massive block party. Mayo’s building across the street from Voltaire that used to house Ray’s and The Lounge now features acclaimed Subculture restaurants Kapow and Hullabaloo.

Ray’s Downtown was a longtime bastion of blues, rock and punk from 1995 to 2007. It was replaced by the Longboards seafood restaurant and bar in 2011. Longboards closed late last year, and Kapow opened in May. The Lounge was a swanky sushi and cocktail spot at 517 Clematis that catered to a mixed but predominantly gay clientele and was known throughout the area for its drag shows. It closed in 2012 after a 15-year run to make way for Hullabaloo, which opened in 2013.

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