An evening of karaoke provides the unparalleled opportunity to embarrass oneself in the presence of friends or coworkers. One New York nightclub seeks to change that paradigm, creating a karaoke experience in which the performer—vocally gifted or not—feels and sounds like a rockstar, as long as they are willing to pay.
Russia-based Ginza Project—a bar and restaurant company—brought their successful karaoke formula stateside with the opening of Jelsomino New York in the basement of the Dream Hotel on West 55th Street. Ginza Project engaged ICRAVE, a bold design and branding firm, to craft an upscale environment. The exclusive vibe begins at the front entrance gate, where a Corten steel sign is very subtly emblazoned with the club’s name. At the foot of a set of stairs stands a tufted red leather door with a slotted opening that evokes a speakeasy feel.
Once admitted, patrons check in with the host before heading to one of the club’s three distinct spaces, totaling an intimate 2,500 square feet. The karaoke action takes place within the largest space, dubbed the Main Stage. Banquette seating and tables line the perimeter and accommodate up to 80 for bottle service and food pairings such as caviar, oysters, and exotic fruit. At the center of the room is a small, lit stage where the brave belt out songs to the tune of nearly $30 a pop.
Spectator as performer
What sets Jelsomino apart from the typical karaoke hall is the fact that the wait staff doubles as backup singers, and many of them are bonafide Broadway performers. A live band, DJ, and lighting engineer further customize experience depending on crowd response. “It’s like karaoke on steroids,” explains ICRAVE owner Lionel Ohayon, who is fascinated with blurring the line between spectator and the performer, a theme that resonates throughout his firm’s work. Jelsomino provides an “interactive, tailored night where anything can happen and you can become a star,” adds Jesse MacDougall, the project’s lead designer.
For those who choose not to partake in karaoke, the adjacent Backstage room offers a more chill, but still luxe, atmosphere. It provides seating for up to 40 patrons, and during special events, it connects with the restaurant upstairs, Courgette—another Ginza Project and ICRAVE collaboration. Along one wall, custom signage spells Jelsomino in lights, reminiscent of the marquees throughout nearby Times Square and the bulbs of backstage dressing room vanities. Along the bar, director’s style chairs feature the names of memorialized rockstars, including Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.
The third space is a private VIP Room that accommodates 15 and can be rented for special events. Lined with leather banquettes, suede wall panels, and a fiber optic lighting system on the ceiling that mimics a starry night sky, the room is designed like a rocker’s recording studio. It features a high-end sound system, a small glowing stage, and an “on-air” sign.
Glittering nightlife transforms a basement
The club’s finishes are so luxurious, patrons might forget that they are paying top dollar to sing in a basement. Leather, suede, and glittering chandeliers provide a rich contrast to the original load-bearing masonry walls and sealed concrete floors, which the designers preserved and exposed. However, it was challenging to design within the confines of a basement space, especially since many of the building’s systems are housed there. To achieve the layout and spatial proportions desired, sections of the two-foot-thick masonry and granite walls were sawed away, steel lintels were added to carry loads where necessary, and the floor was underpinned to create additional ceiling height.
Not only does Jelsomino literally push the envelope of the Dream Hotel’s basement, it also challenges Americans to experience karaoke in a new way. The club draws a varied crowd, and while it is “fun and trendy to a level,” explains MacDougall, Ginza Project plans to build a following over time. This strategy of creating an environment that recalls the romance and nostalgia of a bygone era must be working, because Ginza Project recently opened an even larger Jelsomino in Miami, also designed by ICRAVE.
Key Design Highlights
- Details evoking a bygone era include the red tufted, speakeasy entrance and suede wall paneling in the VIP area.
- A lit stage underneath a grid of color-changing LEDs help make the singer feel truly like a star.
- A nod to the nearby theater district, as well as to backstage mirrors, marquee lights spell out Jelsomino in the bar area.
- Director’s chairs with music legend names and custom portraits depicting icons artfully lend to the rockstar motif.
- Designer: ICRAVE
- Client: Ginza Project
- Where: New York
- What: 2,500 square feet on one floor
- Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request