RIGA - When Nautilus opened at the edge of Old Town Riga in 2000, the clientele was mostly well-off, mature and Russian. The character of any club tends to be fluid and when Nautilus celebrates its sixth anniversary on Feb. 24 with a party headlined by London DJ Nic Fanciulli and on Feb. 25 by some more familiar talent, the crowd will be younger and less sleazy.
Latvians and Russians will be represented in equal numbers.
Clubs unite peopel, according to Viktors Bukults, 27. Bukults began coming to Nautilus when it opened. After a short-lived stint as a TV personality specializing in Latvian club life, he became Nautilus' PR manager. "Nautilus is my hobby, my passion."
Actually Bukults breaks down and analyzes his clientele a little more carefully. "Thirty percent are lifestyle clubbers," 18-25-year-olds who come out weekly.
"Thirty percent come once a month." These people may be more inclined to come if a famous DJ is headlining. Nautilus has imported many American and British acts, among them Gene Farris, "a big black guy from Chicago."
Does the club headline any Russian DJs?
"Not so much. Want to know why? Visa problems. We've had to cancel a few shows because the DJs' visas didn't come through." At the moment, the club keeps a contract with Bogdan Taran, a Latvian DJ.
"Thirty percent are tourists, sex tourists. It's not a secret," he says. "My girlfriends always complain to me about these tourists. They say, 'I hate these tourists. They think if they buy us a drink, we'll do something [for them].'"
Such has often been the problem with Riga, an unofficial sex capital, and Nautilus which hires a few go-go girls to serve as decoration may be helping to perpetuate the stereotype.
Still there's something kitschy and fun about the mock fashion show the club stages every hour or so. On the night I was there, one woman dressed in a long brown trench coat and peeled it back to reveal a completely naked body painted in blue and red pastels.
Nautilus' soundtrack is tribal techno, at least on the main floor with the big silver stage and industrial balconies. The beat moves smoothly to the mood of the crowd. It's the kind of music one tends to hear at a London or Amsterdam club.
"I don't like the German sound," which is known for being repetitive, unemotional, very loud, Bukults said.
The club's Chillout Lounge, which underwent what Bukults felt was an unwise renovation, plays hip-hop and modern pop. It used to be filled with soft couches, but now half the room is taken up by bar counters.
Bukults travels outside of Latvia about twice a month, often to experience club life in other parts of Europe. He's fascinated by the growing scene in Lithuania. "Four or five years ago, there was nothing there." He particularly likes Global in Klaipeda.
The Lithuanians are, in his estimation warmer and more gregarious. The Estonians, on the other hand, are "like spaceman." He tends not to go to Tallinn.
Bukults' favorite movie is "54," the 1998 film that waxed nostalgic over the glory days of New York's legendary Studio 54. The moral of that story is that the grandest parties end the soonest. Nautilus, for whatever it offers, will not be around forever. It's due to close in autumn 2008 to make way for housing construction. Bukults doesn't know what will happen then.