Kings of Clubs

The coke-drenched era of nightclubs is over, but now a new group of entrepreneurs is ready to reinvent the scene

But perhaps Black's boldest move was his infiltration of the gay enclave on Cedar Springs with Lime, a bar and club he opened in 2001. A blend of atmospherics from South Beach and New York, Lime was a clean minimalist space with bracing green hues, a row of giant flat-screen TVs on one wall and an array of mirrors on the other. It opened to thick crowds and developed a loyal following. But by the fall of last year, Black had divested himself of Lime and soon found himself embroiled in a breach of contract and fraud suit with Lime's managers Eddie Ortega and Simon Garza (owners of Salsa on McKinney Avenue), who allege that Black had entered into an agreement to sell them the club and then backed out. Black countersued, charging Garza and Ortega with breach of fiduciary duty and with failure to pay federal payroll and Texas liquor taxes while they were operating Lime. The outcome of the litigation is pending.

"It didn't work," says Black of his Lime adventure. "I wasn't the right person for it. I just didn't get the job done."

Despite this setback, Black contends his instincts are sound. "I'm very creative," he says. "I'm very visual. I read a lot of magazines. I'm looking for trends. I think I'm always a little ahead of the curve as far as designing places. And I'm open to trying things. I mean, I was a black straight guy on Cedar Springs."

Blue will be a flurry of adult distractions including belly dancers, VIP lounges, aerialists, a huge dance floor and a restaurant; below, club denizens plead to get past the doorman at the Starck Club, a 1980s den of sex and drugs.
Mark Graham
Blue will be a flurry of adult distractions including belly dancers, VIP lounges, aerialists, a huge dance floor and a restaurant; below, club denizens plead to get past the doorman at the Starck Club, a 1980s den of sex and drugs.
"People had drugs and people were attractive and people had martinis and nobody slowed down," howls '80s club mogul Shannon Wynne, top. Now, says Wynne's one-time partner Matthew Mabel, below, clubs are run by geeks in lab coats.
Mark Graham
"People had drugs and people were attractive and people had martinis and nobody slowed down," howls '80s club mogul Shannon Wynne, top. Now, says Wynne's one-time partner Matthew Mabel, below, clubs are run by geeks in lab coats.


Nightlife in the 1980s exploded like an uncorked bottle of shaken champagne. It was a culmination of many things. By 1980, the law that legalized liquor by the drink in Texas wasn't even a decade old. Dallas was an adolescent metropolis coming of age with alcohol and real estate and petrol cash raging through its veins like some hormonal flood.

And there was nothing to do after 10 p.m. "There wasn't any place to go," says Shannon Wynne, founder of 8.0 and a small blitz of dance clubs that followed in its wake. When Wynne, 51, opened 8.0 in the Quadrangle in 1980, the city didn't know what to make of it. "It was Siberia," says 8.0 partner Matthew Mabel, 44, of the Quadrangle area. He says the first six months of the club's existence were barren; the beautiful people were there, but there just weren't that many beautiful people.

8.0 merged factory lighting, industrial materials and artwork into a hybrid high-tech trim in the year the home computer burst into the cultural consciousness. Soon the club seethed with sweaty bodies, dancing to hits by the B-52's and Blondie pumped from a jukebox. Emboldened by its success, Wynne created a series of clubs: Rocko, Tango, Mexico, Nostromo. Mabel describes the fast-and-loose temperament as the Wild West. Banks were willing to shower cash on entrepreneurs simply on the basis of an idea. "There was a time when there was a new club opening every month," he explained in a 2000 interview. "There was lots of territory. There was lots of gold. There was lots of opportunity, and there were lots of charismatic figures to lead everyone on."

In the '80s, the city levitated on the proceeds of the "greed-is-good" decade. "People had drugs and people were attractive and people had martinis and nobody slowed down," recalls Wynne of the scene in his club Nostromo, which took hold of the space that is now Sipango. "Real estate was through the roof. There were 25-year-old millionaires in there sending bottles of Dom [Perignon] to people they didn't know." Nostromo was Dallas' brash adolescent nightlife all dressed up in cosmopolitan pretense. It was sharp, edgy and well-groomed with walls placarded with art and a kitchen that offered exotic cuisine such as sushi and artichokes served on glass blocks. Music, such as Depeche Mode, The Romantics and Frank Sinatra, was assembled and played on a six-hour reel-to-reel tape player. Nostromo bulged with Dallas glitterati, which became the lifeblood of Dallas nightlife--a piece of cultural anthropology that very nearly resembles the social hierarchy of baboon troops. "There's always 15 or 20 small females and 15 or 20 strong males that dominate the culture," Wynne maintains. "Their presence legitimizes your place, and if they don't show up, you're as good as dead."

This brood goes by many names: beautiful people, in crowd, hot crowd. But it's more commonly known as the fickle 500, that amorphous pack that brings sparkle to the nightlife culture and attracts the hordes lusting after a position in the fickle hierarchy. To solidify his hold on this group, Wynne opened the Rio Room in the back of Nostromo, an energetic discothèque that sifted out the riffraff with $1,000-per-person club memberships.

But perhaps the boldest skimming of the nightlife cream struck in 1984 with the Starck Club, the decadent romper room launched by Wynne's former partner Blake Woodall. Woodall went over the heads of the fickle 500, drawing kings and queens from New York and Los Angeles and international cities. Designed by and named for famed French architect and product designer Philippe Starck, Starck Club was on the cutting edge of interior environments. The unisex bathrooms were designed as lounges with endless mirrors, spans of sinks and screens displaying music videos. Liquor was maintained at a constant chill so that the ice cubes wouldn't shrink when splashed with booze. Former Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks was a limited partner.

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