COLUMBIA — Shootings and assaults turned the building at 1100 Locust St., previously known as Athena Night Club, into a danger zone.
Over time, Athena went from a popular dance club to an establishment that was forced to close after repeated visits from the Columbia police.
Now, with a different name and stricter safety precautions, a new owner is working to turn that image around.
Club owner Vinay Atluri said over the past six months, he has made safety the No. 1 priority for Club Memoir in hopes of reshaping the old reputation.
Atluri said the club has not received a single police dispatch call during its six-month run. Public Information Officer Jessie Haden with the Columbia Police Department confirmed his report.
"You can definitely see a reduction in reported criminal activity and disorder at Memoir compared to Athena's history of 71 police reports," Haden said.
Atluri began by hiring former soldiers for his security team. He also recognized the importance of a well-lit parking lot, and he asks employees to walk guests to their cars late at night.
According to neighbors around the club, unruly crowds in the parking lot ignited many of the altercations. Now, guests cannot linger in the lot after club hours.
The dress code came next: baggy pants, white T-shirts and hats are prohibited.
Atluri also expects guests to treat each other with respect.
"The location hurt in the past, but it's moving forward," he said. "I've combated the negative."
He cited a steady increase in the number of guests since the club reopened in May, many of them students. Atluri realized he could change the image, but he needed the college clientele to be successful.
"To take them out of the equation just wouldn't work," he said.
Initially, he began working with the Greek community on campus to schedule social events. Over the past few months, the club has hosted 10 or more registered fraternity and sorority parties.
In September, Chi Omega sorority held a homecoming "marriage party" at Club Memoir with Phi Kappa Theta fraternity.
The sorority's social chair, Caitlin Shapiro, said she selected the club because of price and atmosphere.
"It was truly inexpensive," she said. "The only thing we paid for was our bus transportation."
Shapiro said her sorority had such a good experience at Memoir that it would almost certainly plan another party at the club.
"Memoir is so safe and a wonderful place to go with friends," she said. "I would highly recommend going there."
Safety comes first, Atluri noted, but he also pays close attention to the setting and the music.
The main room has luxury couches lining the walls, a state-of-the-art sound system and special-effect light shows from wall strips where staff members can change the color and mood at any time.
The club hired a live DJ to play music four nights a week, as well as project music videos on a floor-to-ceiling screen.
Club staff take pictures of the clubgoers and upload them daily to flat-screen televisions, which display the pictures during club hours. Guests can also view their pictures on the Memoir MySpace account and the Web site.
"We called it Memoir because we create memories," Atluri said.
He said the Locust location was ideal because it had already been set up with a bar and separate rooms. He did not, however, expect events that happened more than 16 months ago to remain a deterrent.
Atluri realizes that many people in Columbia stick to favorite bars rather than venture into an unfamiliar one. Trying out a new place might be a step out of their nightlife comfort zone, but he plans to persist.
"Business is good and getting better, but I'm not where I'd like to see myself just yet," Atluri said.
"I've had to battle a negative stigma, but I'll get to where I want to be with time and safety."