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For Storyville, the next chapter

New club brings back a famous name

Storyville (Michael Diskin ) Interior shot of a new club called Storyville in the Copley Hotel which will open on Sept. 9, 2011.
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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When club owner Brian Lesser was looking to revamp Saint, the nightclub that occupied the space under the Copley Hotel since 2002, he decided to look back rather than forward.

On Sept. 9, the club will open as Storyville, a name that is familiar to classic jazz buffs. Before it was Saint, and before it was Cafe Budapest, the subterranean space under the hotel was called Storyville and it brought in some of the biggest names in jazz. Artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Duke Ellington performed there through most of the 1950s. Storyville was, in fact, immortalized by Billie Holiday, who recorded a live album there. Dave Brubeck too recorded a live Storyville album. There was even a radio show broadcast from the club.

“It was really one of the biggest nightclubs in the country,’’ Lesser says. “It was known nationally and had a fantastic reputation for music.’’

In reviving a piece of Boston history, Lesser wanted to create a club that would not resemble a theme restaurant or an amusement park interpretation of a 1950s jazz club. He also wanted to avoid making a space that was an imitation of a New York or Miami club.

“We thought this should be uniquely Boston,’’ he says. “With a few tweaks, it was a modern interpretation of what Storyville would be today.’’

Saint was completely gutted for the renovation. The formerly slick “nitery’’ - as Lesser dubbed it when it first opened almost a decade ago - is now a retro-flavored space that has been divided into two separate rooms. The first room, referred to as the Bordello Room, is a nod to the origin of the name Storyville, the notorious red light district of New Orleans.

To reflect its racy roots, the Bordello Room’s walls and ceiling are covered in red damask. The lights are kept low, and the intimate space is modeled after a speakeasy.

“What we wanted to convey is the decadence of not only a red light district, but also the decadence of a jazz club from the 1940s and 1950s. Clubs then felt very different from clubs today,’’ says designer Stephen Sousa, president and owner of Sousa Design Architects.

The Bordello Room opens into a larger space which mixes modern wall coverings with classic tufted leather sofas. Although there will be occasional live music, this Storyville is not a jazz club. A DJ booth sits in the main room and there will be club music as the night wears on.

For Lesser, it was important to reboot the club. When it opened, Saint was the first of a wave of lounge/restaurant/dance clubs that aimed for a wider range of ages. In more recent years, Saint started skewing younger. Lesser is hoping that Storyville’s mix of classic and modern will make it appealing to a variety of patrons.

“The story of the space is so interesting,’’ Lesser says. “Really what we wanted to do is remind people of how lucky Boston is to have this kind of history.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.