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Crowd welcomes downtown nightclub

An expansive new Oak Harbor nightclub tested the local celebratory waters on New Year’s Eve during its grand opening. Judging by the turnout of approximately 400 revelers who rang in 2008 at the Bayshore business, “tepid” would not accurately describe the reception.

“There were a lot of people down there,” said Capt. Rick Wallace, Oak Harbor Police Department interim police chief.

Element is only one element of the undertaking, which also features the Hot Rock Grill, an all-ages restaurant expected to open soon.

Owners Mike Kummerfeldt and Lance Koehler were not designed to sit on the sidelines content to ineffectually chew the fat about Oak Harbor’s theoretical bright future. The local duo pooled their creativity and entrepreneurial acuity to design and construct downtown’s newest addition.

After extensive renovation of the former Department of Social and Health Services building, the efforts culminated Tuesday night as throngs of partygoers queued. And queued. And queued some more.

Despite earlier concerns that the nightclub would prove to be a continuous and unsolicited wake-up call for condominium residents on the opposite side of Bayshore Drive, Wallace said all was quiet on the townhouse front.

“There were no complaints from neighbors or anyone else,” he said. “We had to deal with a few people parking over there, but that was it. The noise issue from the establishment has been dealt with by the management.”

In fact, the only 911 calls that came from the nightclub were made by security staff reporting the occasional patron outstaying his or her welcome.

“It all went very well,” Wallace said. “We hope that’s the way it continues.”

While still in the embryonic stage, transferring the plans from paper required securing accommodating downtown space, which comes at a premium in Oak Harbor. When the state agency’s old digs came on the market, the the owners found their perfect 10,000-square-foot blank canvas.

Although the owners conducted exhaustive research, carefully noting appealing features in other establishments, the designs for the Hot Rock Grill and Element are wholly original.

“Each section is a different element,” Kummerfeldt said. “But we added a fifth element to earth, wind, water and fire. We have one area representing heaven.”

Walking into the building, the grand entrance and coat check area appear coated in ice. If the psychological effect of the realistic glacial environment produces chills, the patron can hang a left and enter the 50-seat, all ages restaurant.

“The grill has a fire theme,” Koehler said, admiring the elaborate sun that draws one’s eye to the ceiling. The red hues create a cozy atmosphere as diners and their families prepare for an interactive gastronomical experience.

Each meal is cooked by the customer at the table on a rock slab heated to 550 degrees. The full menu features steak, chicken, pork, seafood, veggies and six to eight rotating salads.

“You can’t complain about how your steak comes out,” Kummerfeldt said with a laugh.

The hot rock cooking method is not a novelty. The owners decided early on that the Hot Rock Grill would not conform to the commonplace offerings of ubiquitous, grease-laden restaurants peddling occluded arteries at no extra charge.

“We’re focusing on health-conscious food. There are no oils from cooking on the hot rocks,” Koehler said. But there are 16 different sauces from which to choose and an irresistible army of various chocolate fondues to punctuate the meal with decadence.

Dinner is served from 4 to 10 p.m. daily.

Making one’s way from the restaurant to the bar area — an impressive homage to the element of water — is an experience in itself. The waterfalls leave an impression, but the 24-foot bar fashioned from a fish tank will have even the most bibulous teetotalers swilling coffee so as to fully appreciate the mesmerizing sight.

“It’s amazing,” Kummerfeldt said. The bar area also includes overflow seating for the restaurant.

A large, inordinately accommodating dance floor employing a wind theme is situated in the back of the building, the location effectively buffering the noisier section of the business from nearby residents or passersby. A DJ will supply standard club music on Friday and Saturday nights. The other days of the week will be more genre-bending.

“We’re trying to mix it up,” Koehler said. “We’ll have a country/rock night, a classic rock night, of course some karaoke. And we’ll have quarterly live shows.”

A lounge above the dance floor sponsored by Absolut Vodka offers two, six-person tables and a pair of four-person tables.

“Those will be $20 a table or $5 a head,” Kummerfeldt said.

For discerning customers seeking privacy as well as opulence, a self-contained VIP room is available for rent. Splitting the $400 a night fee with a group of friends not only buys limousine transportation and champagne, but a private dance floor, plush seating and a 42-inch flat screen television. Oh, and flipping a switch at the personal service window brings a waitress faster than you can say, “Are we really in Oak Harbor?”

“It’s like the perfect house party,” Kummerfeldt said, adding that the VIP crowd can choose to crank the volume and enjoy the DJ’s tunes, turn up the television or go rogue and plug in their own iPod to set the mood.

Arguably the most unique space in the building is the game room, which features three pool tables, air hockey, a pair of dart boards, and ping pong and arm wrestling tables. Faux painting will give the fun-seekers the feeling they are walking in the clouds, on the periphery of heaven. Framed artwork bearing the images of late celebrities will add an additional level of nostalgia.

All plans were carefully scrutinized by the owners, designed to allow customers freedom to shape their night out.

“It’s going to be killer on the date scene,” Koehler said. “Oak Harbor needs this. Everything that we do is high class. We’ve spared no expense. This is perfect for the 20-something hipster or the older crowd.”

Koehler and Kummerfeldt have already proven themselves in Oak Harbor. The Bayside Lounge, their other business, silenced critics with its professional management.

“We’re going to run the same type of security we do at Bayside,” Koehler said, adding that the casino’s familiar shuttle van will also make rounds at Element. “We have 16 security cameras. The bottom line is, we live here too. We’re doing some of the good things that have been done in Oak Harbor but we’re doing it right.”

Kummerfeldt credited two right hand men with making the new business a reality.

“This venture would not be possible without the help and loyalty of Sam Bayliss and Jason Youngsman,” he said. “Sam has run the day-to-day business at Bayside, enabling us to step away to get Element off its feet, and Jason has been the main man at Element.”

Admittance to the bar is free to people over 21. Both of the young owners were adamant that the fun be available to everyone without cover charge. The VIP room and Absolut lounge are available if someone wishes to upgrade.

One Friday or Saturday each month, however, a $2 charge will be imposed at the door, all of the money going to a local charity. Kummerfeldt and Koehler, members of the Skagit County Builders Association, already award an annual scholarship through the Boys and Girls Club.

Koehler emphasized prior to the grand opening that of the 70 hours of operation each week, only 20 to 25 hours will feature the stereotypical club music. He surmised that condo owners would not be bothered by noise.

“This is a restaurant with a nightclub,” he said. “We’re not downplaying that. But we have the security measures in place. We run tight security. This is going to be a place for everyone.”

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