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Rotating to a New Beat 

Local entrepreneur Vincient Marcello has brought a beloved New Orleans landmark full circle, transforming the rotating top floor of the World Trade Center (WTC) from a predominantly tourist and special events destination with dated decor into an elegant and contemporary nightspot where locals dance and linger until the wee hours.

The 360&176; Club (2 Canal St., 33rd Floor, 595-8900) opened New Year's Eve with a private party less than three months after Marcello closed a deal to occupy the top three floors of the WTC. He brought in an architect and interior designer to renovate, ordered furniture, hired a staff, stocked the bar and attended to a million other conceptual details. As the last minutes before the opening party ticked down, the work crew was carting paint cans and tool boxes down a back elevator as Sen. Ken Hollis and other party guests rode up the front elevator.

"It was a very trying two-and-a-half months to get there (to opening)," Marcello says. "I was working 18- to 20-hour days. We had 20-member crews working shifts around the clock." The result was worth the effort. The center portion of the circular top-floor bar is stationary and houses bars, private booths, elevators and more. In this area, royal blue floor-to-ceiling drapes soften the area and act as movable panels. Hidden behind the curtains are two private rooms that can accommodate four to six people and have a large window that looks out onto the rotating seating area and the outer glass wall of the bar that provides a panoramic view of New Orleans rooftops and the Mississippi River. Customers in the private rooms can draw the curtains for privacy or leave them open for people-watching. These cozy nooks also are outfitted with a video screen and control panel that allows them to adjust lights and music and to watch graphics, broadcasts or the closed circuit cameras within the club that provide peeks of the dancefloor and elevator area.

Walls of the bar are bedecked with small, bright blue glass tiles and the furnishings are contemporary, varied and comfortable, whether you choose high bar chairs at a raised table, a sofa, easy chairs or a chaise lounge. The atmosphere is bright, fun-loving and upscale without being restrictive.

"We wanted it to be contemporary and upscale but comfortable," says Jamie Peckenpaugh, director of marketing. "It's a clean design. It's not too modern as to be obnoxious." Although the bar has had little time for promotion, it has consistenly been filled to capacity on weekends, with a waiting line of up to 60 people on Saturday nights. "It's such and easy sell," she says. "It's so new. It's beautiful, it's fun and we're not trying to be anything we're not."

During weekdays the customer base is mostly tourists, but about 5 p.m. locals begin to arrive for a drink before heading home from work. By 10 p.m., customers start getting younger and in a more intense party spirit and the dance grooves are bumped up a notch. DJs spin the tunes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and three plasma screens behind them provide customers with playful visual diversions. A club favorite is "Valentine Girl," a program in which a virtual girl on the screen dances to the music the DJ plays. Evenings begin with Top 40, dance music and remixes, but after midnight the music becomes more eclectic and hard-driving. On weekdays, the lounge features more mellow, jazzy and crooner-type music, changing to pop dance, contemporary and progressive dance tunes as the sun sets.

"We lead kind of a double life," Peckenpaugh says. "We have a lot of tourists, but we also have lots of locals. It's a mixed crowd. We have some older customers, and it balances out with the younger ones," who make up the majority of visitors after 10 p.m. "Saturdays are a real fashion show. I like to see everyone dressing up and having a good time. It's the place to see and be seen."

All the liquor served is top shelf and the wells are premium. The bar offers frozen daiquiris and its beer is all on tap. Peckenpaugh claims it's some of the coldest in town, coming out of the draught at 32 degrees before being served in chilled glasses.

Now that the 360, on the 33rd floor of the WTC, is running smoothly, Marcello is focusing attention on the 31st floor, which he is now renovating to house exclusive club facilities as well as private banquet and party spaces. "It will have a much more relaxed pace (than the rotating bar upstairs)," the owner says. Marcello also plans to build a small kitchen to provide food for parties and snacks for the bar. The 32nd floor is occupied by the mechanisms that keep the top floor rotating, something the three-quarters horsepower motor has done without fail for 35 years. The 360 is the largest rotating bar in North America.

The 360 soon will be online with a Web site that will allow browsers to watch people on the dance floor via live video cam. Marcello says he expects the site to be operational in about three months.

click to enlarge Bar owner Vincient Marcello (left) and marketing director Jamie Peckenpaugh take a short respite at the city's new hotspot, 360 Bar, which rotates on top of the World Trade Center to give customers a view of the entire city.
  • Bar owner Vincient Marcello (left) and marketing director Jamie Peckenpaugh take a short respite at the city's new hotspot, 360 Bar, which rotates on top of the World Trade Center to give customers a view of the entire city.


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