Just before 11 p.m., the night's first dancer entered the floor. A young woman dressed in a white top and black pants earnestly bopped her blonde hair back and forth while motioning to some nearby friends to join her. By the bar, a couple of guys smoked e-hookahs and e-cigarettes as a relentlessly propulsive house song boomed from the speakers.
This was the new Torrent Nightclub on a recent Thursday night. If anyone wondered how recognizable the former Recher Theatre would be after nearly a year of construction and renovation to the old rock venue, the answer was plain to see: Not at all.
Since the February 2013 announcement of the new Torrent, there has been much debate over whether or not the Recher family's decision to shift from alternative-rock hall to electronic dance music nightclub was sound, and how much the move was driven by trend-hopping in the name of survival.
The conversation matters little now. The transformation is over, and there seems to be no point of return to the less polished, harder-rocking days of the old Recher Theatre. When Torrent Nightclub opened it mid-February, it ushered in a new era for a building owned by the same family since 1959.
Regardless of your music preferences, ownership deserves credit for not only taking a chance on a potentially more lucrative business model, but for fully committing to such a new plan.
The finished product felt similar to a makeover by “Bar Rescue,” the reality show that rebrands and rebuilds struggling nightlife destinations from the inside out. It was hard not to be impressed by the renovation, or think of the large amount it likely cost. The elaborate and colorful lighting encouraged dancing, and the venue was much cleaner and inviting than it had been in years. Even the bathrooms — which everyone should agree needed help — reflected the sleeker atmosphere.
The smartest move for Torrent was the change that wasn't made, namely the club's excellent sound system. Co-owner Brian Recher said last year that there was no need to fix or upgrade the in-place system, and the DJ sets on Thursday night confirmed he was correct. House, dubstep and other variants of electronic dance music — from Mark Knight's “Your Love (Ibiza Annual 2013 Edit)“ to “Jetfuel (Original Mix feat. Cris Gamble)“ by Uberjak'd & Joel Fletcher — pumped through the speakers all night, led by a constant, conspicuous low-end that always sounded clean and never aggravatingly muddied. Bass, how it throbs and forces all of the music's other elements to weave in and out of it, matters most here, and it sounded good.
On paper, the execution of the new Torrent works. But in person, on this particular Thursday, things felt off. It wasn't the music or lack of dancing, because Tim Gunter, a bright-eyed DJ from Raleigh, N.C., had more than 100 people dancing and yelling with Lil Jon, “Turn down for what?” by 12:30 a.m. The problem also wasn't my reasonably priced drinks, a Bud Light bottle ($5) and a slightly light on booze Tanqueray and tonic ($7), or the attentive folks serving them.
Instead, the problem lay in the marketing and promotion. Thursday was advertised as a “White Party” online, meaning everyone was encouraged to wear white from head-to-toe. Only a small segment of people even wore a white article, which caused the theme to fail from the start. (Mercilessly, I was a fool in a white oxford and white Nikes; shame on me for thinking college students will follow directions.)
But worst of all was the inundation of advertisements for the night's sponsor, Finlandia vodka. In case there was any doubt as to the spirit we were supposed to be drinking, Torrent had roughly 40 advertisements — ranging from oversized cardboard bottle cutouts to table centerpieces instructing to “Uncap the Exotic” — plastered everywhere to constantly remind us. A group of attractive women handed out Finlandia swag. The five flashing flatscreen TVs around the bar frequently switched display type from “Torrent” to “Finlandia Vodka of Finland.” I felt trapped in a commercial I never asked to be a part of.
As if this all wasn't enough, a lone bottle of the vodka — along with a glowing sparkler attached at the top to encourage gawking and misplaced envy — was hand-delivered to one of the few VIP tables in use. Torrent offers this type of bottle service to provide the full nightclub experience, but in the context of a club that didn't find much of an audience until less than two hours before it closed, the stunt looked ostentatious and tacky, an accurate description of the night overall.
Back story: Opened on Valentine's Day weekend, Towson's Torrent Nightclub marks a major shift in the artists it hosts. No longer a rock 'n' roll venue called Recher Theatre, Torrent focuses on electronic dance music and providing the environment expected of such a club. Patrons must be at least 21 years old to enter.
Parking: Lots and street parking nearby
Signature drink: Torrent serves the usual cast of bottled beers (Bud Light is $5) and mixed drinks (a Tanqueray and tonic is $7).
Where: 512 York Road, Towson
Contact: 443-687-0284; torrentnightclub.com
Open: 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday; closed Monday, Wednesday and SundayCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun