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Movers & Shakers: Behind the Scenes at New Santa Clara Nightclub Axis

In Clubs, Culture

To say that opening a nightclub is risky business is an understatement—eight out of 10 new clubs fail within the first year, according to Nightclub and Bar magazine. What does it take to beat those seemingly insurmountable odds? Trends, concept, funding, business plan, luck—a hundred factors both practical and abstract. But like the proverb that asserts that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a crack staff with the right experience, skill set and chemistry to make any nightclub successful. It’s a team effort every single night—from the touch-and-go early days to (everyone hopes) long-term success.

When the new Santa Clara club Axis opened at the beginning of last month in its 14,000-square foot space with three dance floors, just such a team had already been working for months. Axis was meant to be something new and different in the South Bay, and the team behind it had to be able to pull it off.

“That was the key to hiring people. We wanted a tight-knit family environment on the staff, where there was a lot of trust,” says Axis manager Linda Dodge.

But what exactly do they do? Most patrons never see the tiny details behind the scenes that are handled every night and can make or break a nightclub, but the Axis staff took some time out to tell us about them.

Peter Bui, Bartender

Peter Bui had never seen anything quite like the hiring process for Axis bartenders. “It was a different approach. I was competing against like 30 people,” he says. “They really wanted the best.”

He’d heard about the new club from one of the owners, who suggested he apply. The process was rigorous, but he feels its emphasis on work ethic, time-management skills and honesty paid off. “It worked, because now we have a great team,” he says.

That team had a couple of months to set up a system before Axis opened, but they’ve been continuing to tweak in the weeks since then, taking patrons’ feedback into careful consideration.

Some of the issues they’ve had to fix are the kind of thing most people would never even think about, like the shot glass problem. Initially, the club was using 2-ounce shot glasses, but Bui noticed they were getting lots of complaints about the size of the shots. The issue was purely psychological—the standard 1-ounce shot looked puny inside the larger glasses. “It’s just the perception,” says Bui. “‘If I’m paying for a shot, I want the glass to be full.'”

Bui talked to his manager about it, the club switched to 1-ounce glasses, and the complaints from customers that they weren’t getting a “full” shot stopped instantly.

Bui says he’s never seen a staff as tight-knit as this one. The trust level extends to their tip system—they are split between the bartenders in all three rooms. That allows Bui to go from room to room, without the other bartenders feeling like he’s trying to cut in on their tips.

“It lets me say ‘If you need help, I’m there for you,'” says Bui.

Linda Dodge, Manager

The manager of Axis couldn’t tell you what the biggest challenge was trying to get the club ready to open. “It was all a challenge, I thought,” says Linda Dodge about trying to prepare for that target date. But perhaps the most nerve-wracking decision of all was deciding what that date should be.

“There are so many little things that you couldn’t possibly figure out what they all are. You just have to jump in with both feet,” she says. “We were all prepared for the worst, and hoping for the best.” The date they finally set was May 4, roughly two months after she started officially working for Axis in March. Hopes won out over fears: “The opening weekend was as smooth as could be.”

When people ask her what exactly the manager of a club does, her short answer is “everything.” “When something needs to be done, I jump in. When we run out of stuff at 2 o’clock in the morning, I’m down at the store,” she says. “I’m on call 24/7.”

So, for instance, it was her job to fine tune the staff training when one of the first hiccups turned out to be that bottle service and other transactions done with portable registers were simply taking too long. “I think we underestimated how important it was,” she admits. “You don’t want people waiting.”

DJ Sy-ence, Resident DJ

There’s no way DJ Sy-ence could have known that the debut of the Electronic Music Dance (EDM) festival I Love This City was going to be moved from San Francisco to Shoreline in May. But when it was, not even a month after the club opened, it gave a big visibility boost to what Axis set out to do musically—and even sent some electro fans their way.

“That night I was playing jungle and some drum ‘n’ bass, and I got a lot of compliments,” says Sy-ence. “One guy told me, ‘There’s no place in the South Bay playing this.'”

That, of course, was sort of the point. Axis launched with the idea of giving clubgoers who’d normally feel like they have to drive to the city to find DJs spinning an emerging genre like EDM a place to go in the South Bay. Sy-ence, a DJ for 15 years, has enjoyed a lot of freedom to experiment with finding the right sounds for the club. “They’ve given me the green light to do what I want to do,” he says. “So far we’ve gotten nothing but compliments on the mix of music.”

The entertainment menu is expected to grow very soon at Axis, with plans to bring in live music this summer. “We’re trying to get ourselves apart from just being looked at as a nightclub,” says Sy-ence. “We want to be a performance venue.”

Melissa Wells, Bottle Service/Cocktail Waitress

Melissa Wells most recently worked at Motif in San Jose. Having had a lot of experience with bottle service, she knew the demands were different than cocktail waitressing.

“It’s a lot more pressure,” she says. “You have a lot more people at one table, and you’re constantly at their table. You want to make them feel their time there is worth it.”

Once again, it’s the details that matter. One thing she noticed is that the club uses glass cups with their bottle service, whereas some other places she’d worked at used plastic, or worse. “C’mon,” she says. “If you get bottle service, you’re not going to want a paper cup.

Colby Reade, Executive Chef

“Street food without the wheels.” That’s the concept that executive chef Colby Reade has brought to The Eatery at Axis, the new club’s restaurant. As a prime mover in the food truck and pop-up food movements in San Francisco, and as an event chef for a catering company (in addition to working as an executive chef for Wolfgang Puck), Reade already knew plenty about people who need to get their food quickly and without a lot of fuss. Though he initially thought the business lunch crowd was completely different than the nightclub crowd later on, he came to realize that was the connection, and began his design of the menu from there.

“They want really good quality food in a relatively short amount of time. I’m kind of unique in that I look at the venue and what it needs, instead of saying ‘I’m going to put this kind of restaurant here, no matter what,'” says Reade. “I love the space. It’s big and it’s got a lot of unique features. And to me the feeling was that it’s time for something new, something more relevant in the neighborhood.”

With that in mind, he started with a small number of items to build around. At The Eatery, they cure their own meats, and make their own pork belly, in addition to baking their own bread. One of the first breakout hits on the menu has been the baby banh mi sliders. “Everyone’s been ‘wow,'” he says. “That’s really popular.”

Axis Nightclub
2909 Lakeside Dr.
Santa Clara

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