When Voltaire, West Palm Beach’s newest nightclub and music venue, hosts its grand opening Thursday night, it will be the first time in weeks that its owner and manager can just relax. Nightlife maven Rodney Mayo and promoter extraordinaire Steve Rullman have been toiling around the clock for weeks to ensure the venue will be ready for this weekend’s three-night unveiling, work that is steadily continuing at the time of this writing.
I swung by Voltaire on Tuesday night, and the club still had the air of a construction site. Circular saws and piles of plywood littered the open space in front of the stage, which was covered with electrical wires and tubs and boxes containing countless tech components. The bar, in a state of mid-paint, was heavily newspapered, and instead of bottles, tool kits and electric screwdrivers lined the shelves.
At the time of my visit, a local artist was meeting with Rullman to discuss his tweaks to a commissioned painting of Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer and the venue’s namesake. The original commission disappointed management, so this pinch-hitter had less than 48 hours to make it work before the giant, framed portrait would be hung at the club’s entrance, welcoming visitors.
The clock was ticking, but Rullman, ever cool under pressure, was used to the feeling. He had built up venues like Delray Beach’s City Limits and West Palm Beach’s Propaganda more or less from the ground up. For too-brief spells, these clubs served as flagship locations for Rullman’s imaginative concert bookings, which drew heavily from psych-pop, shoegaze, dream-pop, alt-folk and other under-represented indie genres. For the past few years he’s been a freelance promoter, scheduling shows at places like Respectable Street, and he’s enthused to once again have a place, in Voltaire, that he can fully manage and shape.
“Instead of trying to find rooms for different shows that are coming through, I have a home base now,” he says. With a capacity of 216, Voltaire can draw sizable indie bands with national footprints, while serving as a laid-back lounge on nights without bookings. As a nod to Voltaire’s era, the bar will serve absinthe and mead. There will be cabaret-style tables and chairs up front, and a sushi bar in the back, along with a cluster of comfy, mismatched chairs and sofas.
“It’s not a room where we can do punk rock and heavy stuff,” Rullman says. “That stuff will stay at Respectable Street [also owned by Rodney Mayo, a couple doors down]. There’s no room to slam-dance in here. That’s not to say there won’t be room for people to dance and move around, but it’s not set up for something too extreme. So ideally I will be booking stuff that’s a little out of the ordinary. The idea is to book special events, parties, experiences, happenings. If your band wants to play here, come up with a reason to do the show. Let’s turn it into a party—maybe it’s someone in the band’s birthday, maybe it’s a reunion show, maybe it’s an album release, maybe it’s a charity benefit show.”
South Florida singer-songwriter Brady Newbill played a “sneak preview” show at Voltaire on Aug. 18. On Facebook, he praised the venue’s “great sound, great aesthetic, great atmosphere. A cozy vibe for performer and audience alike. It finally feels like the South Florida music scene has a home court again.”
“The space is set up to do all kinds of things, and it doesn’t need to be music-related,” Rullman says. “We might be doing some comedy nights. We’ll be renting the room out for parties. I can see wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners happening up here from time to time. We can bring in food from Kapow and Hullabaloo.”
These restaurants, across the street from Voltaire, speak to Rodney Mayo’s growing dominance of the 500 block of Clematis Street, established over three decades. Mayo also runs Subculture Coffee and Lost Weekend. As a second-floor speakeasy, Voltaire is situated just above the latter, a lively lounge with pool and foosball tables, arcade games and a hip soundtrack. Before Mayo opened Lost Weekend, its address, at 526 Clematis St., had been vacant for some 35 years.
“It’s one of those buildings that’s always been here, and people just walked past it, and didn’t really notice it,” Rullman says. “Rodney purchased it six or seven years ago. It was an apartment building, and from what people say, it was an old hippie crash pad. The wallpaper was newspaper, and they’d drawn over it, and there was a lot of really trippy artwork. That’s the rumor, anyway. I don’t know if it’s haunted; I like to think it is.”
You can draw your own conclusions this weekend, with three nights of eclectic 9 p.m. concerts presented free of charge. Thursday night will feature the funk/jazz/soul group Public Sounds Collective; South Florida psych-punk amalgam Dead and Loving It will headline Friday night; and Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge, an instrumental hybrid of self-described “post-surf, noir, spy-fi rock-n-roll,” will play Saturday night.
Rullman has also scheduled major touring bands through the fall, including post-rock favorites Unwed Sailor (Oct. 6); Marbin, a Chicago by way of Israel jazz-rock band (Oct. 8); and New York shoegazers Shana Falana (Nov. 9). Expanding its sonic palette, Voltaire has also dedicated future Saturday nights to a drag cabaret in the spirit of the late Clematis Street venue The Lounge, and Sunday nights to blues.
To start, the venue will be open Wednesdays to Sundays, with possible special events slated on select Mondays and Tuesdays. For the full schedule, visit sub-culture.org/voltaire.