Club Memoir tries to move past Athena's reputation

Sunday, November 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:37 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 29, 2009

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."

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Charles Dudley Jr November 29, 2009 | 4:15 a.m.

Alot of people wish the new owner would open up the little restaurant side once again at that location. They might have to keep is separate from the main area but that little restaurant was nice for people doing lunch from downtown and the surrounding neighborhood.

(Report Comment)
Community Member November 29, 2009 | 10:17 a.m.

If they want to change their image, they might start with not blasting music out the car. My family and I had the misfortune of driving down providence yesterday next to the black suv with clubmemoir stickered across the vehicle. All windows down, thumping blasting music, the seats in my car were vibrating. At one red light, we were stuck right next him. On of my teenagers commented the driver must not have good hearing. I like music as much as the next guy, but I don't like being assaulted by it and I like to choose when and where I hear it. Not good man.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 29, 2009 | 1:07 p.m.

Community Member if you would have dialed up CPD on their non emergency number or 911 and asked for a transfer and given the Lic # and description they would have sent an officer to check it out even if you were rolling.

There is a noise ordinance and if you review the stories in the crime reports they love writing tickets for it.

I agree that is highly obnoxious and should be dealt with accordingly.

(Report Comment)
Brian Jarvis November 29, 2009 | 1:45 p.m.

I've heard several people say they thought Club Memoir was now a strip club. Kudos for the image makeover, but still ways to go if it wants to be more than a fratboy social. Is there a cover charge for this place? And if you can't linger outside, where do you go to smoke a cigarette?

(Report Comment)
vinay atluri December 1, 2009 | 7:27 p.m.

TO COMMUNITY MEMBER/BRIAN JARVIS:Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself , my name is vinay and i am the new owner of clubmemoir and i would like to apologise for the loud music from the suv and i realise with the description of the vehicle that it belongs to one of our team members and i will address this with him on a personal and professional basis.
TO BRIAN JARVIS:I do agree that most of my friends also thought it was a strip club because of the logo and i take the blame for it coz the silhouette background does not clearly exhibit the details of the woman in the logo. Again i apologise but we will try and make it better.As far as hanging around the bar is after hours is what we meant coz we dont want our patrons to hang around for hours together and create loud noise .as for smoking we have a patio equipped with a nice size heater and also as most of our guests know we are the only bar intown that offer hookah.Please come and check us out and please ask for me so i can personally share my thoughts and as well as yours so i can contiually work for making things better.

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