The Spot: Sketchy but satisfying

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April 24, 2009

5:50 AM

A nightclub in Williamsburg seems somewhat anachronistic. Flashing neon lights have no place in a town where it is completely normal to pass residents in full colonial garb on cobblestone sidewalks. And yet, nestled into a seedy strip mall off Bypass Road, The Spot offers the ’Burg a late-night alternative.
I went with a couple of friends to check out the club. We went there two nights — Friday to get the peak scene, and Wednesday to see the regulars and talk to a bartender. Though not a place I plan to frequent, The Spot does have an odd charm.

Somewhere between a deli and a fraternity unit, The Spot is a strange place. Nobody mans the door at the 21- and-up venue. Instead, the bouncer, who resembles a character from “ Ratatouille, ” materializes once you’re about three steps in the door. A tour of the place reveals a bar, dance floor, pool tables and darts. The strangest part of the setup is a barren room on the way to the unisex bathroom, where five overstuffed recliners circle around a television mounted too high to watch comfortably. Probably not much of a problem, as the shiny new flat screens don’t display the hi-def sporting events you would expect. No, a glance at these beauties reveals an endless game of trivia. What movie beat out “A Few Good Men” for the ’92 Oscar, indeed.

The most striking difference between The Spot and other nightlife in Williamsburg is the crowd. As we approached the dance floor, we saw a jolly man in overalls chatting up a barefoot woman wearing a cheetah print top. Most patrons tend to be townies, navy guys or law students, making the average age higher at The Spot than the delis. Members of Catholic Campus Ministry, Phi Mu sorority and residents of Lodge 4 were recognizable undergrads.

Don’t bother dressing up for a night at The Spot. Instead, break out your denim — not just jeans, but jackets and even shirts — T-shirts and anything synthetic, and you’re sure to fit right in. Looking to dress to impress? Animal print is all the rage among Williamsburg’s young professionals.

A major setback for the club came last year when they lost their liquor license. Virginia law requires these establishments to make a maximum of 10 percent of their profits from liquors or desert wines. Apparently a disgruntled former employee retaliated by reporting The Spot to York County for not meeting the food-to-alcohol ratio. Despite the martini and shot glasses on shelves behind the bar, The Spot can’t sell hard liquor. Instead, they have 10 beers on tap and an array of bottled beer, wine, malt beverages and champagne.
They’re on track to get their liquor license back next month, and have been hiring chefs and planning menu spe¬cials to create the infrastructure to sustain their food sales. Some of these are great deals, such as a Philly steak with fries and a pint of beer for $7.99 Wednesdays from 4 to 9 p.m.

The live entertainment could stand for some improvement. Friday’s live band seemed to amuse the regulars, but didn’t really get the crowd going. As they went through an odd selection of covers, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Bubble Toes,” people halfheartedly shuffled around as a sad excuse for dancing. Maybe it was early though: The lead singer, wearing a shirt that said “Beer Delivery Guy,” tried to rile the crowd with calls of “Who’s drunk yet?”

Wednesday night’s entertainment was more depressing. One group of navy guys sat beside the dance-floor, as a woman clad in a red and gold costume danced around waving a scarf. She continued her indistinct ethnic dancing through “Sweet Home Alabama” with a glass of wine in hand.

As if there aren’t enough places in Williamsburg to smoke hookah, The Spot seems to think it’s their thing. Hookahs crowd most horizontal surfaces, from the dining tables to the dance-floor bar. Despite being there two nights, I only saw one group smoking the whole time. The lack of smoke means you’ll certainly come back from The Spot smelling better than you would after ten minutes inside the Green Leafe Cafe.

The Leafe does have The Spot beat on ambiance. It’s clear no interior designer had a say in The Spot’s decor. One room has faux-brick wallpaper, whimsical ribbons adorn the bar lights and everything is too brightly lit. Throughout the establishment, signs printed in black ink on standard white letter paper say things like “Please don’t stand here!” An enormous mirror in the pool room makes it seem empty even when filled with a good-sized crowd.

It appears they’re halfheartedly trying for an Egyptian theme — a foam sphinx cutout drawn with marker hangs at about knee level on a back wall, and other vaguely Mesopotamian artifacts adorn walls and shelves. Later I noticed an explanatory poster: “Spend the night in Egypt Feb. 28 @ The Spot.”

Apparently, timeliness isn’t their strong suit. The schedule page of TheSpotWilliamsburg.com currently advertises events from October. Nowhere does the site list their hours, which are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
When I asked about their website, the bartender lamented that updating it would probably fall into her job description in the end.

Though lacking in many areas, The Spot has potential. With one of the few open dance floors in Williamsburg, it appeals to a relatively untapped market. The owner is considering running a shuttle to-and-from campus in order to attract more of the College crowd.

Better management and a clearer vision would surely help out the struggling nightclub.
If nothing else, The Spot is a cultural experience. Don’t skip your best friend’s 21st birthday for it, but on a night when party options are sparse, it’s sure to provide you with a few laughs.

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