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NEW YORK — In January 2002, Irish entrepreneur Robert Wootton had what he calls “a moment of awakening.” He left behind a hectic life in the entertainment industry, most notably managing the Irish band, Hothouse Flowers, to travel the world. And while in the African Bush, he had a vision of a holistic nightclub that would provide “enlightenment through entertainment.”
Spirit Dublin, the fruits of Wootton’s revelation, was up and running five months later in Ireland. Now Wootton is bringing his conceptual combination of Mind (a wellness center), Body (a performance space and dance floor) and Soul (an organic, vegetarian and raw food restaurant) to New York.
“I reached the point where I realized there had to be more than the material, physical things that I’d acquired,” says Wootton in his paper-strewn Chelsea office. “If I’d been married or I had kids, it would’ve been referred to as a midlife crisis.”
Wootton, 41, who still looks the part of a rock-band manager but speaks like a student of spirituality, sees his project as a natural supplement to healthy living. “There are a lot of people who want to go out and have fun, but they don’t want to go into a toxic environment,” he says. “Dance music has become synonymous with ecstasy and drugs.” Spirit will drown out those negative associations with “uplifting house music,” says Wootton, tunes that will “bring people to a higher state of consciousness.” The club also will hold a midnight show on Saturdays based on “the indigenous stories of Native American culture.” Wootton believes the time is right for a night spot that’s not about “getting smashed.” “Young people today see a lot more and they’re more evolved,” he says. “Just look at how big yoga is in this country.”
Ironically enough, Spirit is being built on the same site as the former drug-addled hot spot, Twilo, where ambulances used to sit and wait for O.D. victims and which closed after repeated drug-related incidents in 2001.
When Spirit opens in November, five other venues will be bowing alongside it, including a nightclub designed by Philip Johnson and the strip club Scores West Side. “Someone said to me that it’s ‘sex, drugs and spirituality,’” Wootton offers. “But it’s amazing. I had no clue [about the coincidence] and none of the others did, either.”
The two-story, 35,000-square-foot space is being renovated for $5 million and is part of an 80,000-square-foot, six-floor building that Wootton purchased for $13.5 million, with the help of an investor, Irish music promoter Dennis Desmond. The additional floors will be used for art galleries, businesses and artists’ studios.
Besides the Body, Mind and Soul areas in Spirit, there will be two bars, a gallery and a mezzanine level for VIPs. The restaurant, Soul, will feature items like a raw wild mushroom burger and white truffled linguini by chef Chad Sarno, and the seven rooms in the yellow-walled wellness center will offer treatments such as massages, scent journeys and handwriting analysis. One especially intriguing and ambiguous treatment is called the “aura camera,” a device that photographs the “colors of aura that surrounds a person.” The bar will serve alcohol as well as “seven elixirs based on the chakras.”
The number seven, often recognized for its mystical qualities, has a recurring presence in Wootton’s increasing empire. He plans to open seven Spirit outposts in total, in Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Sydney and Athens.
Wootton, who is assembling a staff at the moment, hasn’t had a problem finding help — he recently employed a palm reader who stopped by to drop off an unrelated package. “The healers just seem to be showing up,” he says. “They seem to know.”