By Cameron Lee
December 8, 2023
Club culture has changed vastly over the years as technology has adapted how many interact and connect. Gone are the days of sweaty dance clubs that dominated Charlotte’s nightlife in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s. Ask any Queen City native in their 40s and early 50s about clubs like Mythos, Tonic, Pterodactyl Club, and Tutto Mondo– their eyes may light up as they reminisce of their heydays or a memorable night out on the town.
Andy Kastanas was vital to the dance club scene in Charlotte through those glory years, both as a DJ and co-owner of establishments like Mythos, Cosmos, Salamandra’s, and Aqua. He’s stayed loyal to the local DJ scene through his beloved restaurant, Soul Gastrolounge, which is set to reopen in 2024 after being pushed out of Plaza Midwood due to rising rent costs in 2022.
“All the DJs that were there [at Soul Gastrolounge] were guys that I’ve known prior to that from Park Elevator to Mythos, those were my residents at Soul because I tried to stay connected to the DJ world,” said Kastanas.
Long before Kastanas and his wife Lesa opened Soul in 2009, he cut his teeth at Park Elevator, a club he helped open with sound engineer Conrad Hunter and owner Bob Okamoto in 1987. The building was located in Dilworth on the corner of Arlington and South Boulevard, once occupied by Park Manufacturing Company. It was built in the late 1800s during the Industrial Revolution and the boom of the textile industry in the South. Kastanas and Hunter (who later owned White Room recording studios in Charlotte and now Foxcroft Wine Co. and Dot Dot Dot) with very little money, upfitted the historic building themselves.
“I didn’t know much about construction. I was learning as I was going. I mean, I built the DJ booth. I’m sure there were a lot of uneven surfaces,” Kastanas joked. “Conrad found this building, and it said Park Elevator on it. And that’s why the club is called Park Elevator because that’s what was already on the building.”
Despite their inexperience and shoestring budget, Park Elevator booked heavy-hitting bands early on. Acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Cliff, Swans, and Little Feat were featured alongside locals like North Carolina Music Hall of Famers Fetchin Bones.
“We did half DJ and half live. Some nights would be a live show and some nights it would be a DJ…we did performance art, we did all kinds of different things in that venue,” he said.
When Park Elevator moved to Cedar Street in 1990, club music was evolving, coming off the disco era then new wave and transitioning into more techno. Kastanas shifted the focus to showcase DJs, although he did book local bands like Business + Industry, fronted by Blake Barnes (owner of Common Market in Plaza Midwood), which had a sound Kastanas described as similar to Depeche Mode. Groups like Strawberry NEK, which featured DJs Kris Krause and Jeff Nagel, ushered in a new era of residents along with Phil McCaskill towards the end of the club’s run.
Kastanas was also a resident DJ at Park Elevator and a Billboard charts reporter at the time who had access to a ton of free music (promo copies from labels). He got his start in the early ‘80s performing at clubs like Dixie Electric Co. and The Odyssey.
“The gay scene back then was thriving. The music was really the beginnings of new wave alternative dance music. Which was first introduced in the gay bars, you know, high energy dance music, electronic dance music, synthesizers, things like that,” said Kastanas.
It was an opportunity for Kastanas to play a wider range of more progressive music, escaping the trappings of the mainstream clubs and bars that played primarily Top 40 music at the time.
Now Kastanas, along with Dana McKelvey, the founder of Music Maven Agency– a music marketing and events strategy company– are commemorating that golden era of dance music with a new event series. They’re paying homage to clubs like Park Elevator and reuniting old friends and cohorts in an attempt to bridge the gap between generations. Kastanas says he and McKelvey will also organize tribute events for dance clubs like Mythos, Forum, and Phoenix in the future.
“Back then we depended a lot on the locals, we took care of the locals, DJ culture, the DJ groups, the fans of dance music, they were like a big family,” said Kastanas, who has aspirations of opening another dance club sometime in the future. “I think the past is a stepping stone to the future. So we have to recognize the past and see how it developed to what we have now.”
The reunion will bring legendary British techno DJ Mark Archer (Altern 8) to Blackbox Theater for a rare performance in the states. Blending influences from Detroit techno and Chicago house music, Altern 8, which was initially a duo, was at the height of the rave scene in the early ‘90s during the final years of Park Elevator. It’s a fitting headliner for an evening that will feature Kastanas himself performing a set along with longtime friends Scott Weaver (CLTCH, Shiprocked) and Barnes, who will perform Business + Industry songs for the first time in decades.
Many of the Kastanas’ friends and colleagues like Barnes, Hunter, Weaver, and Hope Nicholls of Fetchin Bones (owner of boutique Boris & Natasha, a sponsor of the event) have gone on to become successful community business owners. They’ve all helped shape Charlotte’s music and entertainment culture over the years, and the Park Elevator Reunion will not only bring together old friends, but celebrate those who helped give character to a city many may say it lacks today.
The Park Elevator Reunion will take place on Saturday, December 16 from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Blackbox Theater and tickets are $35. The Soul Gastrolounge food truck will also be on site serving their full menu all night.
In this article
- Altern 8
- Andy Kastanas
- Blackbox Theater
- blake barnes
- Bob Okamoto
- Business + Industry
- Conrad Hunter
- Dana McKelvey
- dance clubs
- DJ culture
- hope nicholls
- Jeff Nagel
- Jimmy Cliff
- Kris Krause
- lesa kastanas
- Little Feat
- Mark Archer
- Music Maven Agency
- Park Elevator
- Phil McCaskill
- Pterodactyl Club
- red hot chili peppers
- scott weaver
- Strawberry NEK
- Tutto Mondo