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Checking Your Pulse
Written on 07.08.04, at 1:12 am
With about as much pomp and circumstance as an Amish cotillion, the latest addition to Orlando’s circuit of gay nightlife opened last Friday.

Situated at the picturesque corner of Orange and Kaley is a darkened building. At first glance, the towering sign outside might lead one to believe that they’ve recently opened a new Lexus dealership. Closer inspection, however, indicates that this is in fact Pulse, the long-awaited nightclub which has become the topic of oh-so-much chatter and hearsay when delays in construction and licensing issues caused it to miss its heavily publicized grand opening during this year’s Gay Days.

This past weekend, however, Pulse did open, although without the amount of publicity you’d expect from a new addition to a notoriously fickle market. Whether intentional or not, the club’s first weekend attendance was fueled not by a flashy campaign, or go-go boys with fliers, but by word of mouth. Nearly everyone I spoke with had heard about the opening from a friend, and not from any type of advertising medium Admittedly, this is exactly the way I heard about it, when a friend who (mistakenly) thought that I would be in the know called to ask if I had heard the rumor that the club was indeed open for business that evening. This of course piqued my interest, and upon hearing that Pulse would in fact be welcoming patrons for the first time that evening, I decided to check it out.

If this quiet opening was a planned guerilla marketing strategy, then bravo. If not, then luck dictates that the owners play the Lotto immediately, as Friday evening found the club filled to capacity, forcing patrons to form a line outside the door, barred entry by a rarely encountered object in Orlando’s gay scene – the velvet rope. Couple that with mandatory valet (unless you want to brave the poorly lit streets off of Orange avenue), and your average denizen of Orange County nightlife may be feeling intimidated even before they’ve shelled out the $5 “entertainment fee.”

Upon entrance, you’re faced with a choice of three distinct rooms. The Ultra Lounge is a sleek, stark bar which feels like the interior of the S.S. Discovery in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (another Appletini, Dave?). This, out of any of the rooms, feels the most hip, and new. Lined with mirrors and flat screen TV’s, the room is equipped with unobtrusive intelligent lighting which can change the mood on a whim. The Jewel box is the intended space for dancing, but due to spatial constrictions, it’s ill-equipped to handle more than a few dozen bodies at one time. The room itself looks like Liberace had taken up residence at Versailles, and added his own personal touches. Large, ornate drapery, and the room’s namesake jewels seem overdone, if not gaudy, and pull focus from one of the truly interesting effects – a gold-framed picture window where scantily clad young men perform behind a blurring cascade of water. Finally there is the Adonis room. For those who have been there, imagine taking the main room at Parliament House, and chopping off the dance floor, leaving only the bar. The room, pitch black, and minimally lit, offers those of us too young to have experienced it an idea of the back-alley goings on of pre-Stonewall days. This claustrophobic space also doubles as the showroom for a rotating cast of exotic dancers and adult film stars, adding to the “when will the cops burst in?” feel.

Each room is so jarringly different, one feels that this is the discotheque personification of Sally Field’s memorable “Sybil.” With no discernable common thread, it’s difficult to understand why you’re moving from uptown Manhattan (Ultra Lounge) to Madrid (Jewel Box) to San Francisco, circa 1966 (Adonis). With the exception of the previously mentioned Ultra Lounge, the lighting makes no lasting impression, with a seemingly haphazard array of stationary cans and intelligent lights illuminating the Jewel Box’s dance floor, and Adonis’ stage. Fortunately the music more than made up for the lighting. DJ Jon Brown spun throughout the evening, receiving high marks from everyone I spoke with, making the “entertainment fee” a bit more bearable, as the porn stars dancing in the Adonis room were certainly not going to be picking up a Tony anytime soon.

One thing which stands out about Pulse is its staff. Whether this was a giddy, opening weekend enigma or not is yet to be seen, but the staff seem to be genuinely friendly, and responsive to guest’s needs. From valet attendants to bartenders, the cheery amicability put forth has the air of the “smile ‘til it hurts” philosophy of Orlando’s hospitality market. The only drawback is that when club attendance is light, the staff becomes quite conspicuous, from the army of earpieced management, to the poor soul whose job it is to immediately remove scuff marks from the surgically-sterile white floor of the Ultra Lounge.

Pulse had its share of opening jitters, with minor bumps like running out of cream on Friday night (who drinks white Russians anyway?), and a problematic cord within the DJ rig which occasionally kills all music in the club. With the opening behind them, the next step is for the club will prove its staying power. Post-weekend reviews have been mixed, ranging from “the next big thing,” to “it was nice to check it out once.” Being open seven days a week will likely challenge management to introduce incentives to lure the usually dormant Monday-Wednesday crowd out, and draw market share from the tried-and-true Thursday-Sunday club goers.

Pulse will quickly have to prove its relevance in the Orlando market, and do all it can to identify and hold on to a base, which may be difficult given its schizophrenic presentation. Just as Firestone learned when Empire opened in 1999, the young, male demographic is a flighty one, with little loyalty when it comes to the next big thing. A cautionary tale, because if this pulse stops, it’s doubtful anyone will be standing by with defibrillators.

Your Host and Emcee...dizboy.

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