By Nicki Escudero
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By Brian Palmer
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Next week, thousands of clubgoers are expected to line up for the unveiling of Sanctuary, Scottsdale's newest nightspot. The hype surrounding this debut has been amazingly intense. Even if Sanctuary ultimately doesn't live up to its billing, the planning and design of the 14,000-square-foot pantheon is like nothing Arizona has ever seen.
Since Sanctuary has remained unseen by the public, the groundwork for the present wave of hype was actually laid three years earlier. Sanctuary is, in many ways, the second coming of Empire, a trendy nightclub formerly located on the corner of 24th Street and Camelback. The corner, among the most valuable real estate in the Valley, was slated for redevelopment, and, eventually, both Empire and the neighboring Ciné Capri had to be leveled. The club, which opened on a Wednesday in August of 1995, quickly became the place to be for the clubogenic clique. On almost any given night, Empire's packed patio could be seen in full swing from the busy intersection.
During its three-year run, Empire became an upscale hot spot and garnered a reputation for housing pretty patrons and a strong VIP following. Its owners, Shawn Yari and Richard Kohan (real estate investors from New York and Los Angeles, respectively), created a club atmosphere that was a bit ahead of its time. Its Wednesday nights were so strong that no other clubs even posed a midweek threat. Jam-packed with the buff and the beautiful, the crowded dance floor grooved all night -- breasts-to-chests -- under the spell of resident spinster DJ Randy.
In August 1998, Empire closed with a final Wednesday night blowout, but clubbers have not forgotten its lofty reputation. As a result, the anticipation for its resurrection has been mounting for close to a year. "For the last eight months or so, people have been calling or approaching us in clubs, asking about the new spot. We stopped going out," says Yari. "We got tired of answering questions like, 'What's it like?' We just want to prepare to show it."
In keeping with tradition, Sanctuary's grand opening is also slated for a Wednesday: August 18. For months, clubbers have been discussing rumors concerning possible names for the venue (some rumored titles included "Babylon" or "Tryst") as well as speculating on a development budget rumored to be more than five million dollars.
The club, located at 7340 East Shoeman Lane, is designed for comfort, style and an almost hidden practicality. It's form, function and follow-through with an emphasis on details. The first inkling patrons will get at the scope of this vision is the front door -- a 200-year-old wooden entry from a sacred monastery, made in India and purchased in Texas. A special concrete framework and entryway had to be built just to support it.
At first glance, Sanctuary's outer structure (which is a French Moroccan, Casablanca-styled exterior) seems rather unassuming. If it weren't for a series of arches coiled around a centralized 35-foot tower, Sanctuary might seem like an understatement within the world of nightclub architecture. Then again, the site was previewed before aesthetically pleasing additions like external lighting and a "Sanctuary" logo had been put in place. It's likely, however, that the focal point will be the tower and the six-foot flame atop it.
Up until now, Yari and Kohan have been guarding the club's internal design with Kubricklike secrecy. Directly behind the antiquated double doors, a hostess booth is the first and only thing visible from inside the curved lobby. Patrons attempting to peek inside the club before paying the cover are going to have to take the chance that people are inside. The cover is expected to be $7 for ladies and $10 for men.
If you plan on being one of the club's early visitors, get ready to explore. Sanctuary boasts seven different areas: the dance floor, situated directly beneath a curved ramp leading to two railed platforms for the more extroverted dancers; a VIP "club within the club"; a Moroccan room complete with draped fabric and couches; a nouveau room; a voodoo room; and a front patio with fire pit. Six specialty bars will serve them all, and the drinks, glassware and presentation will differ at each. The largest main bar is constructed of rare onyx marble.
Sanctuary is also designed to have its own lounge (the seventh area for those who were counting). The accessible but separate entity called "The Divine Lounge" was created for the purpose of providing a more tranquil and romantic atmosphere along with a menu of Italian fare. With ambient lighting, wood floors, copper blackwashed walls and a more laid-back selection of tunes, this room may develop its own separate buzz. That's one of the main ideas behind The Divine Lounge; when people start to talk, you'll actually be able to hear them.
Inside Sanctuary, the main dance floor is in no way zoned for talkative types. Yari personally ordered the top of the line in sound, and his preference for EAW speakers is a luxury that few are willing to splurge for. Up a flight of stairs is the DJ booth and resident turntablist DJ Randy. Randy promises that a variety of music will be played. "Every song may not necessarily be familiar to everyone, but it will be comfortable," he says. "We'll be playing progressive house, trance, breakbeat -- you know, high-energy dance stuff, but nothing that's going to push you off the dance floor or out of the club."