Even when I'm in the darkest corners of the downtown Orlando night-life scene, I try to look on the bright side. So it wasn't long after my eyes adjusted to the dance floor lights at Ono Nightclub that I saw a silver lining: The economy is improving.
It must be, right? For a club to cater this heavily to the VIP crowd, we must have an awful lot of VIPs around — or at least people who are willing to drop $200 a night to act like one. For Ono's sake, let's hope so.
First, the good news. Ono is the latest baby of Keith and Romi Mawardi's Team Market Group, a management company that has practically taken over the downtown scene in the past few years with clubs such as Native Social Bar, 23 and Tier. (Saddle Up All American Bar is set to open soon on Orange Avenue near The Courtesy.) TMG has adeptly shown different degrees of flash in all the above, but Ono probably shares the most DNA with Tier, which boasts the "ultimate VIP experience."
One gets that same vibe from Ono, which opened late last month in a spot that has seen a lot of turnaround. Most recently, the space was home to 1 South, which replaced the short-lived Bar One and The Bank before that. All three catered in varying degrees to the upscale hip-hop/dance crowd, and Ono follows suit in that regard.
Speaking of suits, you might want to wear one. I didn't see anyone get the boot for wearing a basketball jersey, but if you missed the "stylish dress code" on most of Ono's event flyers, the jackets and silk ties on the doormen are a big hint. Inside, there is more of the same. When I showed up at the relatively early hour of 10:45 p.m. last Friday after paying a $10 cover, the small army of black-suited bouncers made me wonder if the president was in the house until I saw the embroidered "Keys to the City" lettering on the back of their jackets.
If seeing this much security makes you feel secure, Ono is your club. Personally, it just makes me wonder what kind of crowd warrants all the muscle.
Certainly, there are plenty of nice things to protect. Backlit bars display bottles of fruit-infused vodka like trophies, and leather sofas beckon from every corner, especially in the welcoming upstairs deck. Are they comfy? It'll cost you to find out. To reserve one of the couch cabana areas (complete with a private flat-screen TV and curtain), you'll need to buy at least one bottle of liquor. Prices vary on that, but to give you a general idea, a bottle of Ciroc vodka runs $190. (On my visit, women could be seen parading around with bottles of Ciroc attached to burning sparklers, like scantily clad torchbearers in some alcoholic Olympics.)
If you can't afford to sit down, Ono can supply plenty of reasons not to. Friday night's DJ had the requisite mix of booty-shakers from Nicki Minaj and Ashanti, with just enough old-school thrown in for geezers like me. (Slick Rick!) The sound system is solid enough, and if you need a little extra validation, you can count on a club promoter to cut in every other song to announce that Ono has "the hottest ladies in Orlando in the house."
If you just want to drink, Ono can supply that, too, as long as your tastes don't get more exotic than domestic bottles of beer ($4), Hennessy shots or standard cola-or-tonic mixers. (My Jack Daniels and cola ran $8.) The bartenders are pretty and eager to please, but don't try asking for a Moscow Mule, for example.
In short, Ono can supply everything I've come to expect from a VIP club — but nothing I didn't expect. In the rapidly growing downtown that TMG has helped to expand, they'd better hope that's enough.
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Where: 1 S. Orange Ave., Orlando