Russell Robbat

Russell Robbat Palace Nightclub Russell Robbat Russell Nightclub Owner Robbat Saugus Entertainment Boston MA

 

 

Russell Robbat Palace Nightclub

 

Russell Robbat -  Palace Entertainment Complex... Russell Robbat... For 22 years, Russell Robbat the owner of the sprawling Palace nightclub has been peddling fun and sexual fantasy to a North Shore audience eager for both...Russell Robbat estimated he invested millions of dollars over the years on new technology and glitzy equipment, such as plexiglass catwalks and a ''Foam Frenzy" machine that soaked dancers in suds. For over 30 years, Russell Robbat has been coming up with creative, innovative ways to keep nightclubbers entertained. As the owner of the 66,000-square-foot Palace in Saugus, he’s got plenty of space to tinker with....

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The day disco died

Russel Robbat

Saugus's Palace to shut its doors, auction off pieces of glittery era

Russell Robbat

SAUGUS -- Need a disco ball for your living room? A mechanical bull? (It still works.) How about a strobe light?

 

These really are the last days of disco -- in Saugus, anyway -- as The Palace, a massive shrine to overpriced cocktails, gaudy light shows, and glittery gimmicks, is being auctioned off piece by piece.

 

The nightclub, which is scheduled to close its doors for the last time tonight, will be bulldozed to make way for a Lowe's home improvement center.

 

A quarter-century of nightclub culture, including the $350,000 space ship that once carried comedian Phyllis Diller high above a Palace dance floor, will go on the auction block Tuesday.

 

While it may make for one of the more eclectic auctions ever held in New England, the passing of The Palace has left thousands of former patrons grieving for the storied era that is dying with it.

 

''I might as well hang up my dancing shoes and call it a day," lamented Heidi Strasnick, 31, a Chelsea advertising executive and Palace regular for more than a decade. Strasnick hung out in the underage section of the club as a teenager, later entered Palace bikini contests, and her best friend married someone she met at The Palace.

 

''When I'm 60, I'm still going to be talking about stories from The Palace," she said. ''It's going to be really missed in Boston nightlife."

 

In its heyday, The Palace was the epicenter of cool. On weekend nights, flashy Camaros and rented white limousines lined the front entrance. Inside, swaggering men in leather jackets with turned-up collars danced to Donna Summer with women in spiked heels and designer jeans. The decor was Vegas, the mood, see and be seen.

 

''Even to the end, it was the height of fashion," said Alan Eisner, executive director of the Massachusetts Hospitality Association, which represents more than 200 Boston-area bars and restaurants. ''The Palace blazed a new frontier with a style and pizzazz rarely seen in a suburban location."

 

Opened in 1982, the 66,000-square-foot club was touted as one of the largest in the world, with 320 employees and six rooms catering to different crowds, numbering up to 4,000 people. There was an upscale lounge with tuxedo-clad waiters and a 1970s room, where employees sported bell-bottoms. Peaches and Herb, known for hits such as ''Reunited," played at The Palace, as did comedy duo Cheech and Chong.

 

Promotions over the years ranged from innovative to outlandish, from amateur acting competitions and ''Foxy Knockouts" female boxing to $10,000 hot-leg and Cher look-alike contests. In 1984, at the opening of a new theme room, ''Star Cruiser Maximus," Diller was dropped from the ceiling to the dance floor in the custom-built space ship.

 

''We always tried to stay hot," said owner Russell Robbat, who sold the club in 1985 but bought it back two years later. ''We always wanted The Palace to be new and fresh."  And the big names kept showing up, from DeBarge and Wilson Pickett in 1987 to Li'l Kim, Usher, and Sean ''P. Diddy" Combs in 2004. Even Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake partied at The Palace in 1999.

 

But The Palace was hurt in recent years by a drop in attendance, driven in part by an economic slowdown and smoking bans.  Violence also left the club mired in lawsuits and bureaucratic wranglings with the town. In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2001, a 24-year-old computer engineer was stabbed to death on a Palace dance floor, and in 2002, a 19-year-old patron was paralyzed in a car crash after drinking at the club. Both the 19-year-old and the computer engineer's family filed suits against the club.  In 2004, police were called to The Palace at least eight times for brawls, stabbings, and shootings, prompting a 21-day suspension of the club's liquor license last year and a rollback of its closing time from 2 a.m. to 12 a.m.

 

Robbat said the violence and economic troubles led him to decide to sell the 22-acre site to Lowe's Home Centers. The sale, for more than $12.02 million, was recorded Feb. 6, according to the Essex County Registry of Deeds in Salem. The Palace and the adjacent Spin nightclub, also sold by Robbat, will be torn down to make way for the home improvement center.

 

Robbat estimated he invested millions of dollars over the years on new technology and glitzy equipment, such as plexiglass catwalks and a ''Foam Frenzy" machine that soaked dancers in suds.

 

The 653 auction items -- including chandeliers, dance cages, DJ booths, 30 bars, six pool tables, and $3 million worth of sound and light equipment -- make up one of the most unusual collections to hit the block in recent years, according to the auction company.

The mechanical bull was the centerpiece of ''Cowboys," a country western-themed room inspired by the John Travolta flick ''Urban Cowboy." Robbat paid $7,500 to buy the bucking bronco from Gilley's in Houston. Actor Kris Kristofferson appeared at the bull's Palace debut in 1990.

 

''When you consider the size of The Palace and how many years it was there, it gave them a rare chance to accumulate items that you don't find in your average one-room nightclub," said Michael Saperstein, vice president of Paul E. Saperstein Co. of Holbrook.

 

A preview of the items is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday at The Palace, and the auction will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

 

Robbat, who also owns nightclubs in Florida, said he hasn't given up on the nightclub business and is eyeing sites in Boston.  ''It's time to move on," he said.

 

As for Strasnick, she isn't so eager to hang up those dancing shoes.

''It's a chapter of history closing in the nightlife in Boston," she said. ''It's making me feel old."

 


 

Russell Robbat

 

"The king of clubs"

Longtime owner of the Palace may be getting out of the nightclub game

 

SAUGUS -- A girl in a French maid outfit cavorts inside a cage while statuesque models wearing only Afro wigs, bikini bottoms, and silver spray paint do a sultry strut atop the crowded bar. An earsplitting soundtrack rattles the walls and floor.

Grinning widely as he watches this sensational if slightly unsettling spectacle is its mastermind, Russell Robbat. For 22 years, the owner of the sprawling Palace nightclub has been peddling fun and sexual fantasy to a North Shore audience eager for both, and tonight's madcap party is more of the same.

 

But Russell Robbat, whose pioneering career began in high school, may be about to call it quits. Business is down, and Saugus officials are fed up with the violence that frequently erupts at the Palace. In the latest episode, two weeks ago, one patron was shot and another was stabbed in a melee that began inside the 66,000-square-foot complex and ended, chaotically, in the parking lot.

For months, Russell Robbat has been considering a multimillion dollar offer from the home-improvement retailer Lowe's Companies Inc., which covets his prime 22-acre property between routes 99 and 1. If, as expected, Robbat finally signs on the dotted line, it'll be the end of a remarkable run.

"Russell's been at this for a very long time, and that in and of itself is testimony to his creativity," said Patrick Lyons, owner of more than a dozen clubs and restaurants, including Avalon and Axis. "Russell is a survivor. He knows that if high-button shoes aren't in fashion, you're not going to do well suggesting people wear them."

 

High-button shoes may be the only angle Russell Robbat hasn't played over the past 35 years. Beginning in the '60s with Help, a Beatles-themed bar in Somerville, he's made a living chasing the latest trends. Sometimes his innovations have worked -- the mechanical bull and beach motif were big moneymakers -- and sometimes they haven't (who can forget those female impersonators "Boyrageous"?). But in seeking buzz, Russell Robbat certainly has created it.

 

Robbat, 57, agreed to be interviewed for this story but insisted that his publicist from Regan Communications also be present. The nightclub owner is smart and well spoken but said he disdains media attention, preferring instead to remain, as he puts it, "behind the scenes."

 

That's only partially true. While Robbat wouldn't allow a reporter inside his luxury CambridgeSide condo and wouldn't detail his wealth and real estate holdings, he does not discourage the perception that he's been wildly successful. Handsome with dark hair and a deep tan, Robbat likes to drop the names of famous friends, including Ted Turner and the late George Harrison, whom he met years ago while meditating with the Maharishi. And Robbat loves to talk about his trips to after-hour epicenters such as Bangkok, the Spanish island of Ibiza, and St-Tropez, France.

"Sometimes research can be a blast," he said, smiling at the memory of his risque adventures. "One night in Bangkok, I saw things that'd make a grown man cry."

 

Just as children of police officers often become cops themselves, George Robbat's four boys got into the bar and restaurant business. Since their father owned a club in Teele Square, Somerville -- the Jumbo Lounge -- George Jr., Russell, Alan, and Steven all developed an appetite for nightlife. When Russell was still in high school, his father let him run the Jumbo on Wednesdays, the slowest night of the week. Rather than book a second-rate dance band, Russell had the idea to put on a rock 'n' roll act, and in no time the joint was jumping.

 

"It was a lot of fun," he recalls. "People were showing up in mink coats. I thought, `I can do this.' "

At Tufts, where he majored in engineering, Russell Robbat was a mediocre student but an exemplary entrepreneur; he started several small businesses, including a laundry service and tuxedo rentals. Money was a motivator after college as well, when he opened Help in the basement of his father's club; worked for UNIVAC, selling early-model mainframe computers; and embarked on a brief but profitable career as a card player.

 

"My father had taken us on a couple of trips to Las Vegas," says Robbat's brother George. "Of course, Russell, being a Type A personality, had to figure out how to win at blackjack. So he learned to count cards and did very well -- that is, until the casinos figured out what he was doing and asked him to leave."

 

With some of the cash he won at blackjack tables in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Nev., and Puerto Rico, Robbat bought the former Terrace Gables Hotel in Falmouth in 1971 and, with his three brothers, opened the Brothers 4, a hotel-nightclub that became a Cape hot spot. The Robbat boys later opened two more Brothers 4, in Nashua, N.H., and Somerville.

 

By the early '80s, Russell Robbat and his wife, M. G. Owens, were living in a large house on 40 acres in Wilton, N.H., and raising their three daughters, Nicole, Chrisiana, and Morgan.

 

Robbat likes to tell people that General Israel Putnam, one of the principal commanders at the battle of Bunker Hill, was buried in the front yard of the historic six-bedroom, six-fireplace home, but it's actually Captain Philip Putnam, the famous general's fourth cousin.

 

Looking for a new challenge, Russell Robbat bought the behemoth Chateau de Ville banquet facility in Saugus in 1982. He envisioned a smorgasbord of clubs under one roof, something for every demographic -- an upscale lounge, a disco, a comedy room, and a dining-concert hall. "I'd never seen anything so big," he says. "But I like complicated things, and this was complicated."

In its first few years, the Palace hosted Peaches & Herb and Cheech & Chong, among other national acts, and beckoned clubgoers with a variety of themed events. To create a "beach club," Robbat set up a giant wading pool and tanning beds and dumped more than 100 tons of sand on the floor. It worked. Many weekend nights, the Palace approached its 4,200-person capacity and the 15-acre parking lot was full.

 

"The Palace became the hottest place in the city, the hottest place in Massachusetts," says Frank DePasquale, a friend and former employee of Robbat's who now owns several restaurants and bars, including Il Panino. "The guy's a master at what he does because he's willing to make mistakes."

 

Just three years after he opened the Palace, Robbat sold it -- for $8.9 million -- and, briefly, retired to Palm Beach, Fla. But in 1987, with the business on the brink of bankruptcy, Robbat and a partner bought the Palace back for $500,000 and once again ratcheted up the hype. New attractions included the Far East-flavored China Room; "Foxy Knockouts" female boxing; and an appearance by actor Kris Kristofferson at a club called Cowboys.

 

"We're not on Lansdowne Street, with thousands of people spilling out of Fenway Park," Robbat said. "So we've had to continually give people a reason to come in. . . . Hey, we once had people partying in a foam tank."

 

But for all this fin de siecle frivolity, the Palace has had its share of problems, namely violence. Although there are metal detectors at the door and 60-plus private security personnel patrolling the warren of rooms inside, there have been scores of violent episodes in and around the club. The worst occurred in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2001, when Leroy Foster Jr., a 24-year-old computer engineer who lived in Jamaica Plain, was stabbed to death while dancing with a woman at the Palace, a crime for which no one has ever been arrested.  Robbat, who was inside the club at the time of Foster's death, immediately offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. But the victim's anguished father contends the owner is crying crocodile tears. Leroy Foster Sr., who lives in Elmont, N.Y., has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Palace.

 

"This guy Robbat has basically managed to avoid ruin through skillful lawyering and public politicking," says Foster's attorney, Michael Appel, referring to the club owner's long history of giving to civic causes in Saugus.

 

Seated at a conference table in his Palace office, Robbat shrugs when asked about his next move. It's clearly not for the money that he continues to operate the club. With his brother George, he co-owns a nightspot in Orlando, Fla., and although mum about his finances now, documents filed during his divorce from Owens show Robbat was worth millions in 1991. Nor is he the night owl he once was. Robbat remarried in 2001 -- Laura McPhee is a senior advertising rep at KISS 108 -- and friends say he plays tennis harder than he parties these days.

Whatever Robbat does, there's no doubt it'll be over the top.

 

"If I do something else, it has to involve a boat. I've told my people, `Bring me a deal that includes a boat,' " Russell Robbat says, his eyes suddenly widening with a new idea.

 

"I want to be out on the ocean some morning and open a $2,000 bottle of wine.

Morning is when your palate's the cleanest."


 

It may be the last dance for Saugus's Palace club

 

Russell Robbat


By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 2/14/2004

 

Russell Robbat SAUGUS -- The Palace nightclub, an often notorious presence for the past 22 years, where disco queens and rap masters grooved under the same roof, may soon be attracting a more sedate crowd: do-it-yourselfers.

An Everett developer has an agreement to purchase the Palace, the adjacent Spin Nightclub, two dozen homes, and a church behind the entertainment complex so it will have room to build a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, according to town officials.

The deal is contingent on approval by Lowe's Companies Inc., the world's second-largest home improvement retailer, and the securing of permits for a 175,000-square-foot store.

About two dozen homes and First Baptist Church would be razed to clear the 10-acre site. Saugus officials said the deal could be concluded quickly.

"Lowe's will not face any opposition," said Fred Varone, the town building inspector. "Residents are very unhappy with the Palace, and we're fed up with nightclubs."

When Russell Robbat opened the Palace in 1982, it was a New York-style, DJ-driven discotheque, boasting six clubs at one location. It presented such musical acts as the Stylistics and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Back then, the cavernous club had 320 employees dressed in tuxedos and 10 rooms that catered to different crowds. It billed itself as one of the world's biggest nightclubs.

The Caribbean Beach Party room had sand on the floor and attracted dancers in sneakers and shorts year-round, while a 1970s room featured waiters in bell-bottoms. One of the rooms featured a mechanical bull inspired by the John Travolta-Debra Winger film "Urban Cowboy." Last year, the Palace launched Rio, a theme room featuring hip-hop music and martial arts-style dancers.

But the sprawling, 66,000-square-foot entertainment complex, which has the capacity for 4,200 patrons, has often been the scene of violence, including the murder of a 24-year-old Fidelity Investments employee on New Year's Day 2001.

Just last weekend, a man was stabbed, another shot, and a third hit over the head with a blunt object during an altercation that allegedly began inside the nightclub and spilled into the parking lot.

A Lowe's spokeswoman, Jennifer Smith, declined to comment on the pending purchase, saying the Wilkesboro, N.C., company does not discuss prospective store locations.

But Andrew Bisignani, the town manager in Saugus, said negotiations began last spring to acquire the nightclubs on Route 99, homes on Robins Road, Oriole Avenue, Swan Road, and Osprey Road, and First Baptist Church.

The New Palace Inc. and Palace owner Robbat are listed as the owners of seven homes, two parcels of land, and a parking lot, according to real estate records.

Robbat declined to be interviewed, saying through a spokesman that the club has not been sold.

Kennedy Development Group Inc., of Everett, has been quietly buying up properties on the four streets behind the Palace, located on the Melrose border, Bisignani said. Kennedy Development did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Maureen Dever, a Saugus selectwoman who has seen the Lowe's plan, said she is delighted by the proposal. She was not surprised to learn that Robbat wants to sell.

"The new Board of Selectmen is looking for a harmony of commercial and residential, and that harmony has not existed with the Palace," Dever said. "Last year, the board cut back on the club's hours, so I guess that got them to think about selling."

Last fall, voters concerned about the violence associated with the club, including a drive-by shooting of a palace security guard after he had ejected several patrons, overwhelmingly approved a bylaw making it illegal for businesses to be open between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. without permission from the Board of Selectmen.

Christie Ciampa, a Saugus selectman, said Robbat called him on Monday about last weekend's violence, but was mum about the Lowe's plan.

"He refused to give me any details about the sale, but my understanding is they are close to wrapping up this deal with Lowe's," Ciampa said. "We're thrilled. The Palace is not the kind of business we want in Saugus anymore. We're all holding our breath until they break ground for a Lowe's."

Not everyone is celebrating what appears to be the inevitable destruction of the cottages and bungalows behind the Palace. Beatrice Horton, who was raised on Robins Road and brought up her children in the same gray-shingled house, said she would miss the neighborhood.

"I didn't want to give up my home, but they're buying up everything. And this area has changed quite a bit since I was a kid," she said. "It's not as private as it once was and there's lots of bad stuff going on because of the Palace."

Horton declined to say what the developer agreed to pay for her home. But she said it was "considerably more" than the $140,500 assessed value of the house.

Nearby, the trustees of First Baptist Church agreed to sell the 75-year-old church, said its pastor, the Rev. Johnell Penns, and are searching for a new house of worship.

"Everyone is heartbroken that we're moving," Penns said. "We have many members who have been here so long, including a 95-year-old member who has lived in this neighborhood since she was 8. But the developer has bought up everything, and it didn't seem like we could stay here anymore."

 


Saugus Business Partnership Holds 2004 Annual Meeting

 

Russell Robbat

Russell Robbat, Gino Cappalletti, James McIver, John Smolinsky, and Donald Wong

Gino Cappalletti, second from left, former New England Patriot Wide Receiver, was the guest speaker at the recent Annual Meeting of the Saugus Business Partnership (SBP).

 

During his talk to SBP members, Cappalletti spoke about his experiences with the world-champion New England Patriots beginning with the Boston Patriots in 1960.

 

Russell RobbatFollowing his presentation, Cappalletti signed a jersey that will be used in a later fundraiser.

 

Accepting the jersey from Cappalletti were (from left) SBP Vice President Russell Robbat, Clerk James McIver, Treasurer John Smolinsky and President Donald Wong.

 

Created in 2003, The SBP works to improve and enhance the quality of life in Saugus for residents and the business community.

 

 

 

 

 


Looking back a year in Saugus 2006...

 

...would not be complete without mention of one of the many generous donations by the Saugus business community.

 

One of the most memorable and unique donation moments can be credited to Palace Nightclub owner Russell Robbat. Russell Robbat organized the ‘Dancing with the Seniors’ competition where two dozen performers and hundreds of spectators gathered at the Senior Center for a night of food, fun and dancing.

 

The event followed a series of community donations Russell Robbat sponsored as a farewell gift after the close his nightclub the Palace. The Palace was torn down earlier this year to be replaced by Lowe’s Home Improvement.


The Daily Item of Lynn:  Palace sold to retail chain

 

Published on: 2/9/2006   Last Visited: 2/9/2006

 

Russell Robbat Palace Nightclub Saugus MARussell Robbat, president of New Palace Limited Partnership, transferred ownership of the land and buildings at 1500 Broadway on Monday to Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., for $12,023,500, according to Registrar of Deeds John L. O'Brien.

Russell Robbat has been dismantling the club in recent weeks, and donated some of the club's contents to Saugus organizations. In December he donated computers, a widescreen television and $4,000 to the Saugus Youth and Recreation Department.


 

 

By that time, Russell Robbat was well into negotiations with Lowe's on the sale of the property, which encompasses 10 parcels of land on Broadway, Swan and Robin's Roads, Oriole Avenue and Thresher and Wren Streets.

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