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Avalon's John Lyons on What Makes or Breaks a Nightclub

Hint: It's the bathrooms!
January 22, 2015, 3:31am

Avalon Hollywood completed construction in 1926. Its stage is where American pop culture has played out for almost a century. From Judy Garland to Sasha, Sinatra to Skrillex, its hallowed halls have told our story and told it loudly. In the 1920s, the venue was a popular spot for high-end burlesque shows, later on it became a soundstage for the early days of television and even hosted Richard Nixon's famed "Checkers" speech. Later, the stage hosted the final performance of The Ramones. Nowadays, it's one of LA's premiere party destinations and is all about dance music. Much of that progression has to do with a man named John Lyons.

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Lyons, a native Bostonian with a lengthy career in the nightclub industry, showed us around the freshly renovated Avalon recently. Usually when we're at clubs, it's a blur of booze and booty-shakin', but in the daytime, the oft-unnoticed things that make or break the clubbing experience are more readily evident, and Lyons has spent a lifetime fine-tuning the details that allow you to run amok in ignorant bliss.

"When you have a large nightclub, the sensory experience, the ability for people to lose themselves in an environment that is the antithesis to the drudgery of their day-life is really what makes it all come together," says Lyons. "You gotta get that right. The sound, the visuals, the lighting, and the temperature - those are all important aspects that allow you to create an atmosphere that is entertaining, enjoyable, and something that someone wants to come back to."

Lyons continues, "The environment is critical, essential, and the presentation of an artist is part of the overall experience." Sometimes it's a delicate science, as evidenced by Lyons' longtime obsession with acoustic design, but sometimes it's as simple as filling up the space in the right way: "A room full of people can make an artist more exciting then playing to an empty room. And I've seen very large, famous DJs playing a half full room – It's not the same. Their magic and their energy doesn't translate if the whole experience isn't there."

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Lyon's unrepentant nerdism towards the details is what brought Avalon into the 21st century. When he took over, it was a storied, but fading venue with notoriously bad sound and an unclear identity. Now it's the closest thing the LA clubbing landscape has to matching the grandiosity of a festival (only with better sound). With over 40 clubs under his belt and venues likes XS and Light in Las Vegas utilizing his expertise in experiential programming, it was only a matter of time before Lyons brought it back to his own back yard.

Avalon underwent a major renovation last year. Everything from massive LED walls to industry-leading 40 inch subwoofers were installed. Even the bathrooms got a facelift. In fact, those bathrooms are so nice, we're tempted to go to Avalon just to pee. The place even smells good. There's no beery stench or sticky floors. For a place that's a rage-face destination for many Angelenos, that's an unheard of amount of luxury, and one that's been wrought due to Lyons' empathetic perspective on the business of partying.

"As an operator, I've always been an observer of peoples habits and behavior. I try to create an environment that caresses their needs and desires," he says. "You need a couple different experiences in a room. Some people don't ever wanna walk around a club or dance – they just want to be in a nice booth and watch the perimeter. Some people will come in and get in the middle of the dance floor and stay til the middle of the night. For a nightclub to work, you really have to be able to provide both of those groups really well."

Although the trend in dance music over the past decade has been towards a short-termism that funnels all the cashflow towards headliners, Lyons' 40 year career in the nightclub industry has left him with a patience and understanding that acknowledges that the guy on stage pressing buttons is secondary to the customer. That's a theme that runs through Avalon, from the bouncers to the bartenders. And next time you're getting down at Control or School Night, heck even Tigerheat, take a second to have a look around and think about the fact that Judy Garland was belting out showtunes in the exact same spot almost a century ago. I wonder if she'd dig house music.

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