Plan B is dead. Long live Prism Dance Club.
Original club co-founder and former co-owner Rico Sabatini announced in mid-January that he would once again take over operations at popular-but-troubled Madison nightclub Plan B. It wasn’t long before Sabatini added to the change by bringing on former Inferno Nightclub owner Apollo Marquez as a co-owner and longtime promoter/performer Lili Luxe as program director.
The new line-up helps launch a major shift that includes not just a new name—Prism Dance Club—but also a rededication to making it a fully inclusive venue for the LGBTQ+ and allied communities in Madison.
When Sabatini initially posted about his decision to buy out the former owners, including his former partner and co-founder Corey Gresen, he cited feeling “heartbroken” over what he’d seen happen to the space they’d started together in 2009.
“What was once a safe haven for the queer community had turned into the opposite of its sole purpose,” wrote Sabatini. “I look forward to the opportunity in making [the club] a staple the community is again proud to call home.”
Tensions and accusations of misconduct by former co-owners and staff at the club boiled over late in 2018, which led to the push to sell it (read our full coverage online or in our January issue).
At a sit-down chat in early February, the new crew laid out their hopes and plans for the future of Prism. Immediate changes included lowering prices “to be in line with other Madison venues” and not charging a cover for 21+ patrons on Thursday or Friday nights, as well as some initial staffing changes.
A fundraiser in mid-February raised some money to help with needed building maintenance, including a major update to bathroom facilities (which will become gender neutral) and a private dressing room for performers. Marquez says the structure is in good condition, and that the need is mostly for upgrading audio equipment, painting, and other minor renovations.
All should be ready to go for the official re-launch of Prism on March 1, after a brief, two-week closure.
Training and accountability
Marquez is well-known in Madison for having run the beloved Inferno from 1996 to 2015. The club was regarded as a haven for darker, alternative nightlife, including having been the home of the Leather & Lace fetish night that has since moved to Plan B/Prism. The event will continue to be held there on the first Saturday of every month.
“I am beyond thrilled to have Apollo join me in this venture,” Sabatini says. “He is a veteran in [the] club scene and his expertise is invaluable.”
Marquez, who became a real estate agent after selling the Inferno, says he’s been interested in getting involved at the club for years. He says his inquiries were rebuffed by Gresen back when he briefly had sole ownership. He’s excited now to help see the business thrive, noting that there’s still a lot of potential in the space itself and the community it should be serving.
“We don’t want to turn off any specific crowd, and at same time it should feel welcoming to anyone,” Marquez notes. He’s already taking the same approach to providing training and accountability to security and staff at the club as he’s always done.
“At Inferno I never had a great big guy guarding the door,” he explains. “I’ve never hired a bouncer that was like, ‘I’d totally kick out anybody for you.’ I don’t want you working for me at all. A lot of that’s just training. You’re not just training your staff, you’re training your people…you have expectations for your patrons, too. They have to know how to function in this place.”
In addition to city-offered training, Sabatini plans to have Prism staff undergo specific and intentional training on mindful conflict resolution. “It’s about conversation and not confrontation,” Lili adds.
All three also promised to be proactive as management as well. They ask that anyone experiencing any issues while at the club report it to staff immediately and assure that a more proactive and constructive follow-up procedure will be expected.
“With the training you also have management who is responsive, who is accountable, who has empathy and actually has standards and resolve,” Luxe says of the new team. “Ultimately, we can’t promise perfection, we can’t control every patron who walks in the door, but we can control how we handle the situations that arise.”
Safer, and more entertaining, spaces
Through her work with Leather & Lace, as well as an events promoter for places like Tavernakaya, Luxe has always focused everything she does on creating and supporting safer, queer-inclusive spaces. She’s also keen to refocus Prism on being a dancing-focused club, with entertainment to support it.
“If you were to go into a big city and go into a big club, you’re expecting an entertainment factor, and I think that’s what we really can showcase and become,” she says. Adding more spectacular, party-focused visual elements will be key, along with diversifying the line-up of DJs and performers. Luxe says she hoped to work with the Madison Circus Space to help showcase some of their performers, as well as keeping the queens, and finding other individuals and groups to involve.
“I have trans and gender non-conforming people that I plan on booking, and we’re gonna have a lot more diversity overall. We want, when you come in here, for you to see something that feels like you, that looks like you, that is you, that you can embrace and feel part of and not feel excluded from.”
“I want you to be able to come in here, show affection, make out with whoever you wanna make out with, and feel comfortable,” Sabatini adds.
In terms of the biggest challenge facing the new club, Sabatini admits that it will be earning the community’s trust. All three are determined to put their money where their mouths are to make that happen, and say they’ve already begun working with several community members and groups to make the space more reflective of that spectrum.
“I look forward to helping with political fundraisers, non-profits, like we used to do in the beginning,” Sabatini says. “This should be everyone’s space. I’m hoping to get back to that.”