End of a gothic era

Masquerade is on track to be sold

The scruffy, tri-level North Avenue dance club and music venue where a generation of twentysomething Atlantans learned to mosh, swing dance and apply a cat-o'-nine-tail so as not to leave a mark is being sold. Co-owner Dean Riopelle confirms that he and his partners are close to inking a deal — possibly by the time you read this — to sell the Masquerade site, which could be redeveloped as condos or a mixed-use project.

One of the longest-running success stories in the history of the city's volatile nightclub industry, the Masquerade will celebrate its 15th anniversary on Labor Day. After that milestone, the club's days are numbered, with the Masquerade going the way of its recently departed sister club, the S&M-themed Chamber. Riopelle says both clubs (or at least variations of them) will be reopened — in the unlikely locales of Underground Atlanta and somewhere in the northern suburbs.

But Atlanta's children of the night needn't despair right away; the Masquerade is expected to remain open at its current location for at least another year.

Once the Masquerade does vacate the premises, the century-old former sawmill building — old-timers still know it as the Excelsior Mill — will likely undergo major changes, depending on its next use. But it might not be demolished entirely, according to Riopelle, who would not disclose the identity of the property's potential buyer until the deal goes through. "The people who have the lead bid in are planning to keep the granite walls," he says.

The Masquerade's owners quietly began shopping the club more than a year ago, after Atlanta officials announced their intent to sell the sprawling City Hall East building between Ponce de Leon and North avenues. The city property includes the seven-acre expanse of asphalt next door to the Masquerade that has served as the club's parking lot since opening in 1989.

Now that the city is negotiating the City Hall East deal with Gwinnett developer Emory Morsberger, who plans to redevelop the 2 million-square-foot former Sears warehouse into loft housing and office space, it's the right time to unload the Masquerade, Riopelle says. He notes that any potential sales agreement for his property will include a leaseback provision that will allow the nightclub to operate for at least another year.

Ideally, the Masquerade's next location will be another large, quirky building with a lot of character and plenty of acreage for an outside concert venue, to replace the Masquerade Music Park that sits behind the old mill. But with the chances of finding an affordable intown site (with parking) getting slimmer with each new block of condos being built in Atlanta, the Masquerade eventually may reopen as an OTP nightclub.

It wouldn't be Riopelle's first foray into the 'burbs. Last month, he opened Paradise City, a 21,000-square-foot entertainment complex in Alpharetta that houses the Enchanted Forest theme restaurant; a nightclub that features karaoke, team trivia and local bands; and a Gymboree-style kid's zone.

Kid's zone? What happened to the club owners who helped introduce Atlanta to Jane's Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Radiohead? What became of the balls-to-the-wall rockers who occasionally still play together as the hardcore goth-sex band the Impotent Sea Snakes? And what about the guys who gave red latex panties and man-corsets a home with their Cheshire Bridge Road fetish club, the Chamber?

"Times have changed since we started," says Riopelle, who's relocated to Alpharetta himself. "I've got two kids now, and many of the bands we booked in the early years of the Masquerade, like Nirvana, are now being played on classic rock stations."

In addition to the Alpharetta compound, the Masquerade's owners are involved in opening three new clubs in Underground Atlanta, including Future, a less industrial, more upscale version of the Chamber. Riopelle says a VIP-only balcony — complete with dressing rooms for customers who don't feel like wearing their buttless chaps on the walk over from the parking deck — should appeal to serious fetish enthusiasts.

Although he realizes that the Masquerade holds a great deal of nostalgia for many Atlantans, Riopelle feels local club-goers will adjust to the new site.

"I don't think the attitude of the Masquerade is in the bricks and mortar," he says. "It's in the people."

There are those, however, who disagree. Jason Deems, who recalls first seeing Helmet and Jesus Lizard at the Masquerade, later played there many times with his former band, Bullhead Clap.

"Most of the shows we ever did were at the Masquerade or the Point," he says. "The Point is gone, and it would kinda suck if the Masquerade closed, too."