The minute you walk through the door to Club Transmission — the first club dedicated to music and dance in Jersey City, one that may be paving the way for a new scene in the Power House District — you sense something special about the place.
Owner Howard Brunner has transformed the 5,000-square-foot interior at 150 Bay St. from a warehouse into a bar, lounge, and performance space. But he has added touches that create a unique flavor. Subtle things give Club Transmission its unique flavor, perhaps even setting the standard for what future clubs will be like when they open in Jersey City.
The DJ booth to the left of the entrance is angled in a way that greets people coming in, the DJ providing tasty tunes that start people dancing even before they get their drinks.
To the right, near the bar area, is a $35,000 grand piano which serves as a table top for bar guests.
The club is divided into several sections, the bar, a lounge area, and the dance or music club at the rear.
At the entrance to the dance and performance area in the rear of the club are portraits of Bach and Beethoven, testimony to Brunner’s upbringing in Germany before his family moved to Australia.
“I don’t want this place to be exclusive.” – Howard Brunner
The club currently is open Thursdays through Saturdays, drawing a variety of people, some dressing up for the nighttime experience, while others come more or less in street garb.
Brunner said it will serve as a venue for both rock music and dance.
“This will be a rock club and a dance club,” he said.
The interior decorations include authentic Victorian furniture, tables with prints of scenes from the English Romantic period, echoed by extremely modern chairs that suggest their Victorian counterparts.
‘I’m looking for a sense of decadence’
“Where else can you put your drink down on a $35,000 grand piano? I want to make it clear that these things are objects to be used.”
These ideas, as well as host of other subtle concepts, come after a lifetime of working in an entertainment environment and a seven year odyssey to get a club of his own.
Standing dressed in blue jeans and a button down shirt, Brunner looks over his club and nods.
“I’m very happy with it,” he said. “There is very little I would want to change.”
The crowd on this particular Saturday night is amiable. Not everybody dresses up, but many do, giving it the feel of a 1970s New York dance club but with an important difference.
“I don’t want this place to be exclusive,” he said. “I want young people to come here and those young in heart. While I would like to have people with a lot of money come here, I also want other people to feel they are welcome. I want men, women, LBGT, all to feel comfortable here.”
This club has no TV screens. This is not a sports bar, he said. There are snacks, but no food.
“This is not a restaurant.”
This is part of a movement to bring back live music to Jersey City. He said he envisions patrons for the rock music coming in early to catch a live performance, after which DJ music will allow people to dance. He likes the idea of mingling of rock and dance people.
He said his goal is to create a synthesis in the community, to expose people to things they might not otherwise seek out for themselves.
Jersey City wasn’t his first choice. He tried originally to set up a club in New York City. But then he heard about what was happening in Jersey City and came over about two and half years ago. He saw great potential, and saw an opportunity to become a trendsetter here.
He likes the industrial look that includes exposed concrete from the building’s original use as a warehouse. While the docking bays are gone, the awning remains, providing a place for people to gather outside.
“This is also close to public transportation,” he said. “But not too close. You want a place like this to be somewhat remote.”
Although the area of the town turned out pretty much how he expected, he admits it was still a gamble at first. But as it turned out, his gamble appears to have paid off. He currently has no real competition in Jersey City.
He said he loves Jersey City and is thrilled to become part of the community here.
“This is the place to be,” he said.
On this night in late September, Brunner showed the kind of versatility he hopes the place can embrace, holding a fashion show in the bar area featuring a Jersey City designer.
A unique fashion show
Recently, the group hosted a special event – a fashion show focusing on designer Sonia Cantore.
Cantore had started her line after she was at a loss for what to wear one day.
She needed a shirt and didn’t have one. But her friend Ron Kassals had a lot of men’s clothing. And so she adapted men’s undergarments into women’s wear.
This sparked an idea for clothing line.
While she hadn’t gone out on her own before, she had plenty of experience in the industry, working for designers that had worked with people like Madonna and Janet Jackson.
She said she hadn’t studied design formally. She simply absorbed what she saw while working, learning all the basics from those around her.
“I’ve been in the fashion industry half my life,” she said.
Her mother used to sew in the old country, and she sat at her side and watched.
Although she was born in Italy, she grew up in France, then came to the United States, eventually settling in Jersey City.
This was her first show at Jersey City’s first dance club.
Called Boy Band Clothing, the models wore designs that were adapted from men’s clothing.
Cantore herself wore an outfit that adapted a man’s jock strap for a belt and a tee shirt for the skirt.
“Its adaptive reuse,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.