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STRUCTURES : Decor Debut : The made-over Metro Bay Club's dizzy array of stimuli reflects the shameless pursuit of fun.

March 25, 1993|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was the prelude to an unveiling, and the joint was a beehive of 11th-hour preparations. In the space of one week, the erstwhile Club Soda in downtown Ventura was being made over, into the new Metro Bay Club.

Things happen quickly in the nightclub business. Ideas are flung against the wall with the hope they'll stick. If not, it's on to the next one.

So, painters slathered coats of purple on the stairway up to the second-story space. Muralist M. B. Hanrahan was putting finishing touches on her large quasi-tropical panels, with psychedelic simians, parrots and flamingos cavorting in the underbrush.

The vendor hooked up the pinball machines in the new parquet-floored game room area overlooking Main Street.

And oh yes, the car was already in place. Earlier in the week, a metallic red 1960 Nash Metropolitan was lifted through the second-story window and set into place atop the stairs.

Using cars as decor motifs is nothing new, not since Hard Rock Cafe, Hudson's Grill and other spots have made indoor autos almost de rigueur . At the Metro Bay, the car plays a central role in the action, in that a cashier stands inside the vehicle--floorless, like Fred Flintstone's.

A few hours later, a throng of curiosity seekers filled the place and Ventura's newest nightspot was put to the test. Dancers put a literal sway in the flexible dance floor, creating seismic waves in an already dizzy array of stimuli.

The sum effect of the Metro Bay Club's interior design is postmodern pell-mell, a bargain basement of mixed metaphors, disjointed references and shameless pursuit of fun. Logic and continuity have been refused service at the door.

But who's complaining? Nightclub decor, one of the last public refuges for freewheeling experiments, is always subject to change without notice.

With clubs, standard aesthetic codes don't necessarily apply. And so the Metro Bay Club, designed by Los Angeles-based David Stevens, is alternately low tech, high tech, funky, slick, playfully lowbrow and mildly sophisticated. Something for everybody, nothing for some.

Stevens has created a pseudo-expressionist zigzag design on the ceiling, in hues of purple and orange, but he also exposes the brick walls, which celebrate the 1906 building's pre-modern heritage.

You can catch a whiff of Stevens' polystylistic attitude in the understated entryway. The club's logo is a rounded M suggesting something between a subway sign and a fallout shelter marker. Neon counteracts the subway-urban funk, and an awning over the doorway evokes an "uptown" vibe.

Adding yet another element is the security screening system at the door, replete with metal detector. This reporter was relieved of his weapon--a two-inch key chain knife--before entering. It's important to make the world safe for fun seekers.

At the opening night festivities, the Santa Barbara-based band Spencer the Gardener threw its own cross-cultural ingredients into the room. The band's music splinters off from pop-rock to hints of surf music, spy music and Caribbean cadences.

Just in case the pool tables, the presence of brick and an in-house convertible fool you into thinking this was a down-to-earth saloon, glitzier elements throw off the scent. A profusion of black lights, mirrored columns and a dB-pumping P.A. system alert you to the fact that you're not in Kansas anymore.

And then there is the hot tub. Two women, clad in fluorescent-hued bikinis, have the task of serving drinks whilst standing in water and swaying to the rhythms that spike the air.

"I have one question for you," lead Gardener Spencer Barnitz said wryly over the microphone. "Why are those girls standing in two feet of water?" It was a question with only one possible answer: Because this is a nightclub in the '90s.

What do hot tubs, cars, glow-in-the-dark monkeys, floppy floors and a pay phone festooned with a sign reading "Excuse Booth" have in common? Check out the Metro Bay Club for the answer.

Later during opening night, the hot tub twins' energy level seemed to droop a bit and they danced in a dreamy halftime to the band's kooky calypso.

Midnight had passed almost unnoticed. Slinky '60s spy movie cliches filled the air as fog machines spit out their atmosphere-in-a-can, and the point was suddenly driven home that nightclub kitsch is timeless, if by no means forever.

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