|Teen Club Scene: Mocktails, Charge Cards, Faux Paparazzi - but No Snogging|
|By MATT GUTMAN (@mattgutmanABC)||Mar 21, 2013, 4:17 PM|
In a dimly lit, subterranean club at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in the Bahamas, girls bounced around on the dance floor as pubescent boys awkwardly stood nearby, gawking.
Faux paparazzi cameras flashed wildly as the kids walked up to the entrance and were greeted by a doorman, who unhooked a velvet rope to let them through. They were issued entry cards that double as charge cards -- a license to swipe and spend. Once inside, they sipped on mocktails, hit the dance floor, played video games and looked at Facebook at a bank of computers.
It's called Club Crush, a 14,000-square-foot space in the bowels of the city-sized hotel. With entry restricted to those aged 13 to 17, similar "exclusive" teenage clubs are the newest way luxury resorts like Atlantis are appealing to the teenage demographic -- and their parents.
Two teen girls, Steph Altholtz and Gigi Mazilly, both high-school sophomores from New Jersey, spent hours preening themselves for a night out at the club. The throbbing experience of lights and loud music was even better than what's back home.
"You just dance," Steph said. "You make friends and dance. You come out and get their names, add them on Facebook at the computers and you stay connected."
In New Jersey, "you meet someone, you go to Applebee's, or a movie theater or a Friday night football game, or you hang out in someone's basement," Gigi said. "We don't really have clubs there."
Certainly not clubs catering solely to the 13 to 17 age group, an ever-more-potent demographic, as Steph's father, Steven Altholtz, readily admitted. He said it was the kids who made the decision to come to Atlantis and Club Crush.
"Happiness is a big part of life," he said. "When they're happy, we're happy, and they have so much to do here. We can have a vacation with our kids and away from our kids. They're having a vacation with our family and also independently."
Into that breach jumped Amanda Phelps, the super preppy general manager of Club Crush.
"It's a very tough demographic to go after in the marketplace," Phelps said. "When you are kids, there is all kinds of options. When you're teens, you don't want to be programmed to. You want to feel like an adult, but you're not quite there. That's how we came about the focus of Crush. We did a lot of focus groups."
The result was a $12 million Mecca of glitz and gadgetry. It's big money that is attracting some of the biggest stars teens love. Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the Jones Brothers have all made appearances at Club Crush.
"We like people in the back area to have a VIP experience," Phelps said. "If they're celebrating a birthday or having a special occasion, those VIPs, that's when we have celebrities come in."
Those celebrity names instantly attract Facebook likes and Twitter followers for the club.
The logic of the teenage clubs is that if you can ensnare the 13 to 17 year olds, their parents and little siblings have no choice but to follow. But parental approval is contingent upon this actually being something of a covert operation. Phelps said a team of coordinators, security officers and the DJ monitor the kids.
And absolutely no snogging -- publicly making out -- allowed on the dance floor.
"We have a code of conduct that they have to abide by to be in Crush," Phelps said.
In fact, those entry cards that double as charge cards enable parents to snoop on their children. Each swipe leaves a digital record of their comings, goings and purchases.
At the end of the evening, there was a waiting parent for every teen.
"It's good it's fun," one parent said. "It's a nice, safe place for the kids to go at this age instead of wandering around. So I'm happy about it."