Hegenberger Nights

The club feels like a modern version of Studio 54 without the coke spoon as decorative inspiration.

It’s summertime, and the natives are restless. The scent of sex is in the air as lithe bodies slathered in suntan lotion grind up against one another poolside in a raver mating ritual: the Discovery Channel meets MTV’s Spring Break. Near the back, New York DJ Onionz pumps out funky-fresh house music. Beefy men bedecked with smoked-mirror sunglasses, tattoos, gold jewelry, shaved chests, and Kangol hats ogle women in hip-hugger pants, high heels, and frameless wraparound shades. Then the party’s focus shifts. Several skimpy bikini swimsuits have sauntered beneath a banner reading “Hawaiian Tropic Swimsuit Fashion Show.” An overzealous onlooker lets out: “One of the chicks has camel toe. Fuck yeah!”Could this be Miami’s South Beach? Or 1015 Folsom on a Saturday night? Not quite. It’s a Sunday afternoon at the new Hotel Ibiza in Oakland — the former home of the Edgewater West, a favorite swingers hangout for more than two decades.

Just minutes from the Oakland airport, Hotel Ibiza’s purple motif and exotic tropical vibe stand out among the hotels, restaurants, and shops lining the street. Reopened in late spring, owners say the venue is positioning itself as a club/hotel hotspot by combining elaborate DJ dance parties with an alluring poolside vibe and “superclub” atmosphere.

The exclusive grand-opening event at the end of June spelled “schmooze fest” from the get-go. Media flunkies walked in to find free drinks and hoity-toity catering. By the time the gratis booze stopped flowing around 10 p.m., the crowd was good and toasted and on the dance floor, shaking its collective ass to pedestrian house music.

Upon entering the club, you pass through a huge main lobby, transformed from a banquet room. A little further on you’re deposited into an open-air courtyard featuring a large grassy area to the right, a hot tub and swimming pool in the center, and a concrete dance floor next to the pool. To the left sits a lavish jungle hideaway, sporting lush greenery, a wooden deck, and benches.

Back in the Edgewater days, an open door to a hotel room meant come on in and join the clothing-optional goings-on; a closed door with the shades open meant you wanted to watch but not touch. The Hegenberger swingers’ club was once featured on HBO’s Real Sex. Now, the atmosphere is less about overt sexuality and more about glitz and spectacle. Any cries of “more, more, more!” refer to more lights, more speakers, more bar space, more dance-floor space, and more exclusivity. Hell, the club feels like a modern version of Studio 54 without the coke spoon as decorative inspiration. There are scores of circular couches, each one enclosed by strands of silvery beading that cascade into private “walls” of chic hippie-esque grooviness. There are platform stages to dance on, a long bar, and a main stage large enough to support a band and/or DJ.

“We’re working with a lot of the top promoters in the City,” says Rob Saunders, one of the principal co-owners. “At first, it was hard to get them to come out and look at [the place], but once they did come out, they loved it.”

The Ibiza has attracted big-name dance promoters in the Bay Area: Martel & Nabiel (Release), Spundae, Funky Tekno Tribe, Radiance, Clockwork, and SFO. A slew of well-known DJs and performers have also jumped on board, including progressive house goddess Sandra Collins, Romanthony (guest vocalist for Daft Punk), popular house DJ Kevin Yost, San Francisco’s Franky Boissy, Jeno, Mark Farina, Miguel Migs.

While its true that, at least for now, Ibiza has the support of many local promotional companies, time will tell if the crowds will be there to support specific artists. The main thing that sets this club apart from other next-to-the-airport joints is that party-goers can also rent rooms for the night just a few feet away from their last Mai Tai. The sparsely furnished rooms start at about $200 a night, some requiring a two-night stay. (One frequent San Francisco clubgoer said she’s hip to the scene at Ibiza, but didn’t like all the rules and requirements. “They also weren’t letting people bring their own booze in the rooms, searching everyone’s bags. I thought it was a little too much of a police state for my liking, a little extreme.”)

Thus far, the crowd is thick with people from Silicon Valley, the Central Valley, and the East Bay. Whether the club can lure people from the city remains to be seen. But the club’s owners believe they can do it. “We’re doing something for [Oakland] that’s long overdue,” Saunders says. “Every weekend, the Bay Bridge is packed with people from the East Bay heading over to San Francisco. We hope we’re the first step in helping to reverse that tide.” Others, like Oakland’s illustrious Mayor Jerry Brown, also give lip service to the idea. Brown made a brief appearance at the Ibiza’s grand-opening gala, and scoped out the expensive makeover while talking with a few female constituents. When it came time for hotel investors to get on stage and pat themselves on the back for doing such a great job, Brown was glancing at his watch. Finally, he jumped up on the side of the stage, pointed to his wrist, and tried to beat a hasty exit, but the MC was too quick for him, yelling, “Mayor Brown wants to say a few words!” Brown did say a few words — four, to be exact: “Oakland’s on the move.” Then he scurried out.


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