Since opening in June, The Mezzanine has proven a successful new concept for performing arts venues.
Downtown power couple Kathy and Sam Guadagnoli joined with Colorado Springs Conservatory Executive Director Linda Weise to open the venue, a nonprofit designed to support the school and the local arts community.
“Colorado Springs has so much to offer in the arts. I think this place is just an enhancement,” Weise said. “You can get the same quality stuff that you can find at a Philharmonic concert, but this venue provides such accessibility and comfort.”
The back-alley lounge to the rear of the Mansion (20 N. Tejon St.) was public and family-friendly from July 10 until its grand opening Oct. 1, when it became membership-only for adults, starting at $25 per month.
“You get a lot of business folks who aren’t likely to get subscriptions but who maybe now will,” Weise said. “It’s also a place where everyone — all ages, genders, socioeconomic strata — would be represented in a place where everyone represented would be equal, and there is no better place to do that than at a bar.”
The aim is to “broaden their artistic gaze,” Kathy Guadagnoli said, introducing them to live jazz, classical, theater, burlesque, literary art and more.
The Mezzanine and adjoining Mansion occupy a building with roots in the arts. The building was erected as the Colorado Springs Opera House in the 1880s before it was later eclipsed by the Burns Opera Theater and repurposed to house a restaurant and offices. Now, the building has returned to a swanky venue hosting the likes of Central City Opera and offering hand-crafted cocktails and a gourmet menu.
“The Mezzanine is most easily defined as this: a space where performance art comes together with an elegant, edgy atmosphere and customized cocktails,” according to a recent news release. “The Mezzanine will be bringing in top performers from all around the globe with a goal of enhancing downtown Colorado Springs and the creative district as an artistic hub for artists and audiences alike.
“I believe that this venue will encourage greater and greater accessibility to all forms of performance art. I also believe that the venue will be the reason for many young creatives to want to stay in Colorado Springs.”
Weise came home from visiting New York City last summer with an idea.
After hanging out at a number of small, dimly lit lounges in the big city, she confronted longtime friend Kathy Guadagnoli about the possibility of recreating the concept in downtown Colorado Springs.
“I thought that was a real interesting concept, and I said, ‘I think I’ve got the perfect room for you,’” Guadagnoli said.
“The room was all trashed, but we looked around and she said, ‘I love it.’”
The women, with help from Conservatory associates, artists and contractors, worked to transform the space from a storage facility to its current state. The overhaul was a two-month whirlwind Weise described as “truly Herculean.”
“Just getting the logistics right, planning the programming, getting the space ready … there was so much for everybody to do,” she said.
The interior was gutted, painted, refurbished and outfitted with new rear-stairs, a small stage, dance floor and full bar.
“My husband says I don’t know the word ‘budget,’ ” Guadagnoli said, declining to discuss the cost of building out the 125-person club.
Because it’s a small venue, Weise said artists often perform multiple acts to ensure inclusivity. Shows also tend to start earlier, allowing patrons to move and socialize or attend other late-night events afterward.
Guadagnoli said the most significant portion, however, wasn’t the recreation of the club’s interior, but branding the rear façade with a signature look.
“Most of the work was on the outside of the building, which was just the ugliest,” she said. “Now it’s absolutely gorgeous.”
What everyone’s chatting about is the first thing club-goers notice as they approach the speakeasy-style entrance: a freshly painted mural adorning the Mezzanine’s western façade.
The Trompe l’oeil (French for “deceive the eye”) work was carried out by artist Douglas Rouse and his company Rouse 66, which includes his wife Mallori.
“From the moment I met them, I knew we were on the same wavelength and that they understood what I wanted,” Guadagnoli said. “They’re awesome.”
The mural was created to portray the building’s rear as a theater with grand curtains and a large mezzanine accessible by spiral staircase. Guadagnoli and Weise laughingly said the mural is so convincing that people have walked into the wall trying to ascend the faux steps.
Rouse 66 has been in business for 20 years, specializing in speed painting, 3D street painting and murals. Mallori, also an artist, has done work at the Mezzanine, including the transformation of the rear stairs into piano keys, restyling the bathrooms and a large mural on the building’s south exterior wall. A few of the Rouses’ contemporary pieces hang on walls, all for sale.
The couple first met the Guadagnolis two or three years back and were soon commissioned to create the large American flag mural that adorns the ceiling of Gasoline Alley (28 N. Tejon). Soon, Douglas said, Rouse 66 became a go-to contractor for the Guadagnolis’ artistic needs.
“After the flag, we were in,” he said. The Rouses said when the Mezzanine opportunity arose, they were excited to be party to the arts-related enterprise. Mallori said the couple had been discussing potential projects for the Conservatory when the opportunity arose, and that it was great to see the world of Weise combine with that of the Guadagnolis.
“I think their vision is brilliant for Colorado Springs,” Mallori said. “That energy is what is lacking here. … It’s a great space.”
The Guadagnolis also employ a number of artists for entertainment at the Mansion, including Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats. But Weise seems most excited about a specific breed of artists — her Conservatory graduates.
“This was the most magical, logical consequence of the school being 20 years old,” she said. “The alumni … many of them live around the globe, but many of them are moving back. Now they have a cool place to create, to hang out, to invite their friends and to work.”
“These are future stars,” Guadagnoli added with a smile.
Thus far, the night club has hosted local acts such as Texas-born Arch Hooks, a musical theater production called The Last Five Years, jazz by guitarist Wayne Wilkerson and his ensemble, a classical rendition of Handel and a series of burlesque shows. Weise said artists are beginning to line up for a chance to perform at what is becoming an acclaimed Colorado Springs performing arts venue.
“I’m a classically trained musician at two of the best schools in the world,” Weise said of her education at Juilliard School and Oberlin College & Conservatory. “This is as cool as anything your’re going to find in New York — I know that for a fact.”