Restaurant owners banking on Missoulians' desire for a high-end nightclub

When most people think of Missoula nightlife, the last place they think of is Southgate Mall. But if Bob Powell and Nick Alonzo have their way, that may change soon.

Next month, Powell and Alonzo - co-owners of several Missoula restaurants including Hoagieville, the Montana Club, and Southgate Mall's Arriba Mexican Grill - will unveil a nightclub at the mall. The nightclub, to be called Club Cabo, is modeled not so much after typical Montana bars or dance clubs, but more after hotspots in Las Vegas and Walt Disney World's adult-oriented Downtown Disney.

"You look at what it's like in those places, and the environment is so thoroughly thought-out," says Powell. "There's as much thought that goes into the safety as the music as the lighting as the décor.

"What we're aiming to put together is a place like no other in Montana," continues Powell. "I guess you could call it a high-end dance club."

The club, dubbed Club Cabo, will be located at the main entrance of Southgate Mall, inside Arriba Mexican Grill. Every Friday and Saturday night, when the restaurant closes after dinner, employees will shuffle tables and chairs, clear the dance floor, and transform the location into a dance club.

Patrons will be charged $5 at the door. For that price, they'll be treated to a smoke-free environment and spacious dancefloor, plus a non-stop barrage of popular dance music pulsing from what will be one of the most high-tech (and expensive) sound and light systems in the Northern Rockies.

To create the environment they sought, Powell and Alonzo turned to Sound Stage Systems of North Haven, Conn. Representatives of the company, which has installed systems at clubs in locations as far-flung as Miami, California and Cancun, Mexico, will be flying to Missoula at various times this month to supervise installation of an integrated, computer-controlled light system and top-of-the-line sound system.

"Our electrician almost crapped himself when he saw all the pre-wiring changes he was going to have to do just to make this thing work," quips Powell.

"When the installer (from Sound Stage Systems) is here, he'll be spending 10 hours just to set the acoustics of the speakers."

While the new nightclub is designed to reflect the modern environment of big-city dance-clubs, it is also modeled - at least in spirit - after two old Missoula nightclubs that Powell and Alonzo remember fondly, the Holding Company and the Rocking Horse.

"Back when we were in our dancing prime, in the late '70s, the Holding Company was absolutely the place to be, the place where you always ended up your night," recalls Powell of the nightclub, which has since closed. "It was really happening. That's our goal - to create a great, fun social environment."

Powell and Alonzo acknowledge that the location of the club, as well as its rather stiff door-charge, are unusual for Missoula. But they believe they can not only draw patrons from downtown nightclubs, but also draw out patrons who avoid the downtown scene.

"Girls have got to feel like it's a safe place for them to be, or they won't come out," asserts Powell. "We're going to be doing as much as we can to make sure that this is a fun, safe environment, where a girl can go with her girlfriends and have a good time without worrying about people being jerks."

"If we do this right, people will look at it like they're going to the movies," adds Alonzo. "You have to feel like you're stepping into a different world."

Alonzo points to the Rocking Horse - which was formerly located in the spot at Southgate Mall now occupied by the Mustard Seed - as proof that Missoulians will come to the mall at night, so long as there's something worth coming for.

"You've got built-in assets at the mall that you don't have anywhere else in town," asserts Alonzo. He ticks off a short list of what he sees as the new club's native assets: a huge, well-lit parking lot; a clean environment; and mall security guards who, Alonzo claims, are "just itching for something to keep them busy at night, rather than just driving around an empty parking lot."

As they talk about their project, Powell and Alonzo seem not so much like men motivated by a hot business opportunity. They seem more like kids in a candy shop.

"For the first time in my life, my son is excited about something I'm doing in business," laughs Alonzo.

Club Cabo is scheduled to open on Oct. 1. Hours of operation will be 10 pm to 2 am every Friday and Saturday night.

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