New Energy Continues to Build Through the South End

Gaining Altitude
New dance club in New Bedford takes it to another level
By Jennette Barnes, Standard-Times staff writer
Photo credit Andrew T. Gallagher/Standard-Times special
Date of Publication: November 02, 2006 on Page A11

Iris Colon and Michelle O’Brien, both of New Bedford, and Vicki Lavoie of Carver take to the dance floor on a Friday night at Club Altitude.

Saturday is the night to find a packed dance floor at Altitude, the new club in New Bedford’s South End.

On a recent Friday, the scene was more relaxed. Dancers didn’t hit the floor until 11:30.

In the 10 o’clock hour, DJ Tony T played “Boogie Fever” and “Disco Inferno,” along with “Start the Commotion” (known to many as the Mitsubishi song).

The sound got newer, and the crowd younger, as the night wore on.

Even if things were a little slow, most Altie-goers raved about the club.

Of course, in New Bedford, a bit of the good stuff goes a long way. Patrons described existing dance clubs in the city as déclassé, prone to fights, and in the case of one Ashley Boulevard institution, “a retirement home.”

With the exception of Bar 908 downtown, thriving dance floors in the Gritty City are hard to find. So it was no surprise to hear people at Altitude praise the 8,000-square-foot night spot.

“It’s a very nice club, high class,” said Gary LeBlanc, a Fairhaven man in his 40s.

Gushed 27-year-old Wendy Andrade of New Bedford, “I think it’s awesome.”

The place offers a taste of Providence or Boston without the worry about a long drive home, she said.

She and mom Debbie Andrade, 46, liked the palpable level of security.

At the ground floor entrance, bouncers do an ID check, use a machine to photograph each ID, and scan patrons with a hand-held metal detector. (“We usually have the guys empty their pockets,” the bouncer said when a woman questioned why she was waved through after setting off the detector.)

Once people clear security, they ride a glass elevator to the fourth floor of the old mill building.

Renovated in the 1980s, 651 Orchard Street failed as an upscale outlet mall called Howland Place. It now houses a gym, day care, and offices, but the top floor stood cavernous and vacant until co-owners Ken Rapoza and Janis Sharek came along.

Now that the club is open, they hope to develop the rest of the floor as a Dave and Buster’s-style establishment, with food and elaborate arcade games. Mr. Rapoza projected construction would start by June.

The owners know the food game — they also own the Naughty Dawgs hot dog joint in Fairhaven.

Back at the club, patrons step from the elevator into an anteroom, painted with clouds awash in lights that slowly change colors. A glass door welcomes them to the club interior.

Old-mill industrial meets Mediterranean in the decor. The mammoth mill windows and columns are intact. A tiered fountain stands in the entrance.

Seating areas have sconce lighting with dangling crystals, and chandeliers salvaged from a church illuminate the main bar.

Different types of seating and a second bar surround the dance floor.

A VIP lounge, separated from the rest of the club by a knee wall, is booked for Saturday nights through the holidays, Mr. Rapoza said. That means locals are ready to drop some cash: Reservations cost $200 for one of four seating areas, or $775 for the whole space. Prices include a liquor package and cold hors d’oeuvres of cheese, fruit, and shrimp.

With the exception of some friends of Mr. Rapoza, though, the VIP lounge was empty on that Friday.

Club patrons said they hope the Friday pace picks up.

“It’s a little dead tonight,” said Mitch Cravero, 33, of Dartmouth. “I have heard it’s packed on Saturdays.”

The crowd is “nicer” than other local haunts, he said.

A sizeable crowd will be necessary to cover the cost of staff, which on that recent Friday evening included 15 security guards and eight bartenders.

Stereo equipment installed to the tune of $150,000 makes the DJ booth a multimedia command center, controlling the colored lights with the click of a mouse. Two retractable screens can display music videos or customized images for private parties.

On Saturdays, Mr. Rapoza said, hired dancers take to the stage in front of the DJ booth.

He hired live bands on two recent Fridays, but after a while, people started leaving, apparently because they expected a DJ, he said. He’s not sure if he’ll hire a band again — “maybe Thursdays,” he said.

In the meantime, Thursdays are college nights, with drink specials and a $3 cover for those with college ID.

The cover on that Friday was $7.

Drink prices are reasonable, said Dennis Costa, 43, of New Bedford. He paid $3.75 for a Heineken.

Just before midnight, 12 people were on the dance floor. But one club-goer reports that the following night, Altitude hosted a larger crowd befitting its big-city vibe.

For information, visit or call (508) 990-1222.
Contact Jennette Barnes at or (508) 979-4446.