Nearly a year of construction and renovation come to an end this Valentine's Day weekend when Torrent Lounge, the nightclub replacing the Recher Theatre on York Road in Towson, opens to provide a thumping heartbeat for Baltimore's electronic music scene.
"There hasn't been anything like this in Maryland, ever, from what we've been told by people in the scene," Brian Recher, co-owner of Torrent Lounge, said.
The Recher family has owned the former Towson Theatre space since 1959, Brian Recher said. He and his brother obtained a liquor license and changed the space from a pool hall to a rock venue 17 years ago. The Recher enjoyed a strong run as one of the area's premier music venues, but were eventually muscled out of the scene by larger competitors.
"If a booking agent could sell 1,500 tickets instead of 600, they'll do it every time," Recher said. "The market for live music is down, and the local music scene, as well, wasn't what it used to be."
The former green room of the Recher Theatre, which is attached to the back of the Rec Room, was transformed into Torrent Lounge in December 2012 and was a hit with the local college students, Recher said. That area will now serve as a "sidebar," with its outdoor space a bigger draw in the summer months.
"It's a small room, but we've had big success with it, so we're really excited to open this [nightclub] up," Recher said.
His announcement last February was met with resistance from the industry, he said.
"People said when we shut down, 'Oh, it's about the money,' " Recher said. "Yes it is. You have to pay bills. They keep coming every month. We'd love to still be in the live music scene, but things change. You have to change with them. If you don't, you die."
There's not likely to be much overlap between the Recher's rock show clientele and the VIP-section dwellers at Torrent, but to those who saw the old venue, the changes are stark.
The building's front entrance is striking without its marquee, but Recher says the foyer is a throwback to the theater's heyday. During renovations, they removed a drop ceiling and revealed the foyer's original chandelier.
A hallway leading up to the former theater space was redone with new, bright wall paneling, and the bathroom off the hallway is the first indication to customers who experienced a show at the old Recher that much has changed.
The spacious nightclub space's long bar along the south side of the building has been renovated, with the rest of the walls lined with couches and seating areas.
A DJ booth with state-of-the-art sound equipment and an LED light display towers over the dance floor, and the area behind the DJ space serves as another VIP area.
British DJs EC Twins will christen the venue on Thursday, Feb. 13, with Bassjackers performing Feb. 14 and the Generation Wild Tour featuring Deniz Koyu and Danny Avila stopping in Towson Saturday, Feb. 15.
A weekend including such top DJs is only a preview of the type of quality Marketing, Sales, and VIP Specialist Nicholas Conway and General Manager Jessica Warfield are aiming to bring to Torrent.
"We're already booked through April and May with DJs," Conway said. "In the summer, we're going to be a little bit slower, but going into the fall and the school year, we're going to be booking exclusively the biggest DJs in the world. … This venue is not anything Baltimore or Maryland has ever seen in the DJ dance music industry."
Recher said they are already promoting heavily within the local college community, and Conway said buzz is growing as the opening approaches.
Some in the community, however, have expressed concerns about the transformation from rock hall to nightclub. Towson was shaken in September 2012 when a fraternity party at the Recher filled to capacity and the crowd left on the streets grew unruly.
Police estimated that seven were arrested on charges including assaulting a police officer and failing to obey orders. A 19-year-old man was injured in a shooting that night near Towson Town Center, but police said the two incidents were not connected.
In lieu of liquor board penalties, the county and business agreed to a memorandum of understanding that said the Recher family runs a "lawful" and "upstanding business" in Towson, and set capacity and ticket sale stipulations for the venue.
Charles Brooks, a Towson attorney, unsuccessfully challenged the new establishment's liquor license last spring. The challenge, which was filed before the liquor license's annual renewal date, was filed on the grounds that Towson didn't need a nightclub, Brooks said.
Recher said that most of the resistance for his switch to a nightclub came because of issues the Generation Xtremes nightclub had in Towson several years ago.
"If we were going to be like Generation Xtreme, then I could understand their apprehension because that place was a joke," he said. "The people that owned it didn't care about Towson. All they wanted to do was make some money and go home."
The Rechers also own the Rec Room and Towson Tavern, and are "entrenched in Towson," Recher said.
"We want to make money, too, but we know how important it is to be part of the community," he said.
Greater Towson Council of Community Associations President Paul Hartman said the organization didn't take a position, but he is "hopeful Brian Recher and other management come through on their promises on not making a disturbance outside the property.
"I hope it's successful because if not, we don't want a closed building there," he said. "On the other hand, we don't want it to be a deterrent for anyone else to come to Towson. We're all in this boat together. If there's a leak, we all need to bail."