Designs for a Russian Club Bar in Cleveland, Ohio

"Russian clubs remind me of Latin clubs -the party starts late but lasts all night, and everyone is dressed to kill."

John Rivera-Resto

"If there was a job I wanted to do, it was this one."

The Barfly was a dance-club-bar in Cleveland, Ohio, that closed in the spring of 2011. If words were called upon to describe the place, "a seedy dive" would be at the top of the list. The place looked like it was a set extension for the frat house in 1978 movie "National Lanpoon's Animal House". The smell of beer, disco lights and steam filled the stale air while the music played so loud it peeled paint off the walls. But it's validation for being was one that's rooted in the American Way of Life: "it made money".

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-33.png Cleveland street-corner location of the former "Barfly".

The club was located at the corner of West 9th street and Johnston court, a location presently occupied by the more upscale "Rumor" club, in a downtown area that has undergone quite an urban renewal in recent years. It so happened that in the winter of 2010, the Barfly's owner was at the term limit of his lease agreement and the building's owners wanted the club to "keep up with the times". So the owner asked me to come up to the club and listen to his remodeling ideas.

January 2011

The Barfly consisted of two levels: the ground floor, and "the basement". The ground floor was dominated by a large rectangular bar and a rear platform for live music performances. The basement -where the restrooms were located, consisted of... well, it's easier if you just look at the photos. My site visit was right after the New Year's celebration, but this did not take anything away from the feel. Let me give you a VIP tour of the place:

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-34 Staircase down into the basement. The place was as dark as a devil's ass so I'm taking photographs with a powerful flash.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-35 Notice the half-cynlinder 'niche' on the stone wall. It contained a chair and a spotlight on top (your guess is as good as mine). Red rope lighting along each step prevented you from tripping and dying on the way down.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-36 Turning to the left on your way down the stairs gave you a view of another bar.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-37 The bar extended all the way to the back of this main room, with only enough space left to walk around it.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-38 The bar dominated the space. Water pipes and electric conduit were visible on the ceiling joists and cross beams that supported the ground floor above. By the look of it, this was one busy bar.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-39 A view of the opposite side of the bar leading up to the "dance area".

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-40 Illumination was provided by rows of incandescent track lights muted by pink or red gels. There was also an overkill of disco effect lights and sound speakers to guarantee epileptic seizure.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-41 Metal swivel "tulip-shape" stools, a cool contemporary style in the 80's, lined the bar for a retro flair. The sides of the bar were stained plywood and the floor was solid wood.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-42 Replicating the shape of the bar, was a metal curtain of cut patterns touching the ceiling, that seem completely out of place in this setup.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-43 The area extending from the right side of the bar was "the dance floor". The were a few round drink tables here and there, as well as access to the "lounge area" and a small hallway to the restrooms.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-44 The dance floor was done in checkered tile, lined with more red rope lighting, and with retro appliances alined against the wall. The concept, I was later told, was to give a "retro-basement" feel to the space. In my estimation, they achieved it, though not in the most aesthetically pleasing way.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-45 Everywhere you looked seem like every leftover half-filled paint can stored in a basement had been used to splash the walls with color.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-50 From the dance area the floor rose a step into the "lounge area". The floor in the lounge has been covered with carpeting over concrete.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-46 View of the dance floor from the lounge. The music level was as high as everywhere. You had to scream at a person's ear to be heard.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-47 The lounge had a sitting area and a clutter of objects and furniture. There was also a small bar.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-48 View of the lounge bar from the sitting area. Some movie posters had been taped to the walls. Everything seem placed haphazardly.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-51 A hallway from the lounge area connected a walk-in freezer, an office, a rear exit, and an opening back to the main bar.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-49 A "coat room", consisting of a couple of metal tubes with clothe hangers, had been improvised on a corner by the back of the main bar. A circular metal staircase allowed an attendant to move up and down between the basement and the ground level. A stack of load-speakers had been placed next to the stairs.

I will spare you the photographs of the restrooms. Though lacking any decor, other than an utilitarian sort, they showed signs of latter upgrade probably due to the strictly enforced building codes that dictated the number of urinals, stalls and access for the handicap in public buildings. There was a two-person service elevator next to the back office and exit that could also serve this need. At the small hallway leading to the restroom there was also another exit leading to trash bins at the back of the building and concrete steps out to the street.


Floor-plan of the Barfly's basement drawn to perfect scale. The gray areas were for staff only. Public areas were the Main Room, the Bar Lounge, and the restrooms (shaded in yellow).


Sample pages from my notebook. I used a thin black marker instead of a pencil to avoid smudges.

When alone, I use a small notebook that's easy to hold in one hand. When I do measurements and notes with an assistant, I use a legal-size pad. While it may look like gibberish to some, my notes are a trove of information where no detail is unworthy of my attention. Extensive and precise notes are instrumental for doing this kind of work. Once home on the computer, you may not have the luxury of going back on location for a missing fact. In the rare instances this happens, you rely on your photographs for backup. To avoid accidental loss, I photograph all notes and diagrams, and along with the site photographs, are downloaded into computer files.

The Russian Theme

The Client had several remodelling ideas in mind. But he wanted to begin with the basement instead of the ground floor. His idea was to turn it into a more exclusive Russian-theme club-bar. There is a small but significant Russian community in the Greater Cleveland area which he felt was under-served. This "niche market" is known to party hard but dress to kill, which he felt added a touch of class and sophistication to the locale. I was friends with a few Russian-Americans, sharing the same classical tastes for art and music. So the idea of turning this dreary place into something classy and beautiful took the form of an artistic challenge.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-53 Russian clubs can vary greatly in decor. But the best ones tend to fluctuate between Vegas and the flamboyant operatic, especially those catering to a higher scale clientele.

My first order of business was to study everything Russian: clubs, nightclubs, dance clubs, and bars, searching for common themes. I noticed that Russian clubs tended to emulate western European models as well as some notable examples in the United States. But people in each country have a distinct way of partying based on cultural distinctions, so each place has its own distinct flavor. For example, Latin clubs differ greatly from other "American-style" clubs as much as a Russian club would differ from others.

What make them different, aside from decor, is the way people act. In this particular case, I knew that, in addition to patrons of Russian culture, I also had to design for a non-Russian clientele that expected a Russian-theme environment and motif. So I settled for a middle ground that would be both classy, theatrical, elegant, and full of Russian motiffs that would appeal to all. But the catch was do it all without doing any structural changes and for a minimum amount of capital. That was the challenge.


I began by treating first the focal point of this place: the bar. The way to accomplish this was to first strip everything including the finish on the wood.


Faux-painted panels of black granite would be painted on the sides of the bar. The surrounding spaces would be stained in golden Pecan or Oak.


A clear-varnish finish with added metal gold dust (not real gold, of course) is applied to seal the stain and give it a nice golden sparkle. Highlights and shadows are painted around the granite panels to simulate three-dimensional depth. Half-column dividers of rigid polyurethane foam are cast from a molded, painted and placed in between the panels to add a distinctive architectural feature.


The metal skirt at the top of the bar is covered by wooden panels and decorated as shown. Accent lights are added to line the bottom and provide lighting to the bar-top. Strip lighting would be added underside the counter-top. With the available tulip-shaped stools in place, for the cost of only paints, polyurethane foam, plywood and LED lights, the bar looks now like a million dollars!

The completion of the bar began to establish the methods and mediums to be implemented in the rest of the design: Smoothing surfaces in preparation for painting, using faux painting techniques to simulate the textures of expensive materials and finishes, the application of printed vinyl paper veneers and murals, and the use of LED lights to create mood and focal accents. In short, we were going to create an illusion of splendor with mostly paints and lighting -and very skilled artists. This was the most cost effective way to keep costs low without sacrificing design goals.


After completing the design for the main bar, I began working on the wall behind it (highlighted in yellow). This wall contained a door in the extreme left, an opening leading to lounge and back rooms door, and an opened space where the lounge area was visible.


View of existing bar and back wall before decoration. The wall was a bare-brick construction, with two box-enclosures extending from floor to ceiling flanking the center-opening, protruding about 8 inches (probably to coverup pipes), with ductwork running horizontally along the top.


The brick walls are made smooth with a covering of drywall, which then is painted royal blue. The ductwork at the top is painted a complimentary ultramarine blue. The two enclosures are stripped and rebuild with a drywall covering and a third one is replicated on the left side. The boxes are faux painted to look like black granite pilasters. The frame around the door on the left is also faux to look like granite. And finally, the door on the left is replaced with a designer piece having an elegant sculptural golden motif.


A "lighted baseboard" is installed along the wall (see diagram below), and plywood pieces painted and installed on the "pillasters" to simulate bases and capitals. Printed double-head eagle Russian emblems are pasted on the three pillasters. Lastly, a clear-epoxy finish is applied to the construct to give a very durable "polished-stone" surface look.


"Bubbler lamps" (see image below) are installed at the sides of each pillaster. Comptrollers can add various lighting effects. These units add a bit of magic and movement to the area and project soft abstract designs on the back wall.


A the left side of the wall, there is the option of installing two lighted "floating coctail tables" (see diagram below).


Combined view of main bar and back wall. All the design element in the harmonious composition would now be implimented on the rest of the space and improved with the addition of the floor design (to be shown later).

A decorator adorns, a designer creates! Another way to find a middle ground between these two practices, is to break down adornment and re-assemble the pieces to create new things. This is my preferred method of designing for these kinds of design projects. It all depends on your ability to adapt certain things into other uses -like the bubbler lamps in this design.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-26 The lighted baseboards are routed in a wood-shop to create a channel for attaching the LED strip-lights. Low voltage power supplies with easy service access will be hidden along the ceiling joists.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-20 Doors like this one can already be found in catalogs. The architectural motif is disassembled to better apply the metallic finish.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-16 A Bubble Lamp has an air pump and LED lights stored at the bottom of the tube support. They are filled with tap or (preferably) distill water to minimize the growth of algae and bacteria that occurs as water becomes stagnant. But the addition of a BCB solution, vinegar, or hydorogen peroxide can limit this occurrence for up to a year. Cleaning the tube is a relatively easy job to do. With a little know-how, the mechanisms can be moved and the based adapted to be used as shown in these designs.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-14 A floating light cocktail table is basically a small table top with a hidden support bolted to a wall. LED lights are enclosed within the table, beatifically providing illumination and color to the glowing table top.

I moved next into the Bar Lounge area. A lounge is a place where you can sit comfortably and relax. The space serves this function. If you can´t relax, than it´s not a lounge. The the first move would be to strip all the glaring disco effect lighting and the loudspeakers from this area. In a place this tight, the sound will carry loud enough without having to suffer permanent hearing loss by having noise being blasted at you from only a few feet away. The next step would be to paint the ceiling flat black, again, to make it disappear, and to place a few sound absorbing panels to limit echo reverberation. And lastly, people sit in a lounge not only to take a break, but to watch others on the dance floor. So lighting is more subdue but still effective and with enough luminance to see who you are seating next to.


The next series of renderings show the "mural wall" inside the lounge area (highlighted in pink).


On the left, the existing pink-color wall would change to royal blue.


The stone wall would be covered in drywall to achieve a smooth surface. Then a mural of Moscow's red square in a striking dusk setting would be printed and applied to the wall. The lower portion of the wall would be painted flat black.


Seating is then installed along the wall as shown. The colors are those associated with the Russian flag. Their addition now achieves the effect of visually framing the "panoramic window view" of Moscow. But equally important, the illusion makes the space look much larger.


Double sided benches and small cocktail tables are added to complete the seating arrangement. A "dancing bears" golden relief-carving (or a print of the image) is added on the left wall. The Russian Bear is a widespread symbol for Russia since the 16th century.


The walls abutting into the mural walls on the left follow (shaded in green)


The walls continue the color and mural image scheme. A door is added to restrict public access to staff-only areas.

The seating benches are of a simple design that manages to look both chic and contemporary. The construction would of wood and plywood and the upholstery of high-resiliency foam and easy to maintain commercial-grade vinyl-fabric. LED light strips would be hidden on the lower portion of the benches to give the area a soft ethereal glow. Nowadays, USB charging stations would be added to the lower front of the benches.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-15 The carved relief can be done over plastic sheathing on a flat table using plaster, porcelain, or any suitable material, gilded with gold paint, and then glued to the wall. Another method to achieve the effect is to have a high-resolution image printed on vinyl paper, then have it trimmed and pasted on the wall.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-6 The seating arrangement provides several intimate conversation spots. The individual benches were designed so people could sit on either side. The small lounge bar could also specialize in serving signature cocktails to patrons in this area.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-12 Front and side views of the bench design. The wooden structure faces are painted gold and faux-granite with LED lights hidden in between for a soft glow effect. The upholstery is white and blue.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-13 The bench design as elegant, comfortable, relaxed and easy to clean. They would also be very sturdy and bolted to the floor.

The next wall in the lounge scheme, would have a more "theatrical" flair. Russians love the fine performance arts -opera, theatre, and the ballet. This simple design would be a nod on this tradition. In most instances, a few simple elements is all you need to conjure something in people's minds. Once you give them a visual hint, their imaginations do the rest.


The "theatrical wall" follows (shaded in blue).


The wall is made smooth by stripping the existing wallpaper or with a covering of thin drywall. Then the entire wall is painted black. Black absorbs light and pulls the eye away, thus adding the illusion of infinite space.


The seating scheme continues on this wall. Then two large-scale carvings are place opposite each others. They resemble the type of sandstone carvings one sees in art buildings of a Classical style.


In between these foam carvings, an HDTV monitor can be placed to show images, videos or advertisement. On the right side of the wall, a railing and an owning are added as shown, to give VIP exclusivity to the lounge area.


The last wall in the lounge design scheme (shade in orange) is the one where a small bar is situated.


The walls are painted blue and the bar is remodeled like the main bar in gold and black granite. A sheer-fabric awning and a section of "designer" metal fence divider completes the framing of the opening from the main area into the lounge. The fence controls traffic flow to opening next to the bar and also provides a measure of "separation" to patrons relaxing in the lounge.


A large circular wall clock with a USA-Russian map design would be the focal point at the back of the bar. Bottle light pendants above the bar's counter complete the decor.

Designer "accents" are the features where you wisely invest your money. These items are what catches the eye and paints a picture in the imagination. They should not come out of a catalog unless the catalog caters to an exclusive clientele that values exclusivity, good craftsmanship and original designs. I tend to design my own designer pieces and have them built for a "one-of-a-kind-piece" that no competing establishment can have.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-17 Then metal fence divider is both stylish and strong.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-18 Design of the wall clock. The inverted map image is not original, but the way it was turned into a clock is.

the-russian-bar-club,-by-john-rivera-resto,-jan-2011,-no-22 Example of the type of pendant lights for the cocktail bar. They can be found in the market, but the design can be easily replicated to fit other needs.

The rest of the space

With all the focal points that are visible from the stairs completed, I turned my attention to the least attractive area: the walls opposite the bar and the lounge. Since the goal is not to change or overspend the limited capital, what you do is "blend" the wall into the new design. This hides the least appealing features in plain sight, allowing the eye to feast on the focal points designed to be eye candy.


This wall-span (shade in violet-blue) has a disparate collection of textures and architectural elements: stone, a stair case, and doors to storage and utility rooms.


The first thing that would need to be done is cleaning the stone wall with a strong cleanser and vinegar. The cleanser will remove dirt, fungus and stains, and the vinegar will take care of bad odors. Once dry, a sealer would be applied over the stone.


The three niches on the stone wall will be turned into lighted displays. LED tube lamps would be placed inside and then hollographic image of dancers (a common sight in high-end Russian clubs) would be fixed to frosted lexan faces to produce very unique moving images.

The remaining job would consist mostly of completing the painting scheme and adding a some lighting elements.


A lighted baseboard would be added along the stone wall and, once they have been cleaned and painted, a decorative circle element to the stair railings.


The metal circular stair on the right would be painted as shown, and lastly, LED light inserts would be added at the ends of each riser to provide the stairway with good, safe illumination.

I turned my attention now to the rear wall at the back of the bar area. This space contained access to more storage and utility rooms, and an area used as a coat storage with a circular metal service staircase. The make this area more appealling, the two doors were treated as if they led the way into VIP rooms not open to the public.


The rear walls are shaded in green.


View of the walls before decorative treatment, and then after as decorative elements are applied to the walls on the right side.


The stone wall on the left side would be made smooth with drywall, painted accordingly, and a new door installed. Then pipes would be secured to the floor, wall and ceiling thus creating storage racks for checking in coats. To make it more elegant, top-illuminated sheer curtains tied to look like champagne glasses, would provide a nice covering for the clothing rack.

Lastly, I would do one of the most important elements of the decorative scheme that will me the entire space gleam: the floors. Carpets and wooden floors are stripped, sanded and primed. Then a pebble-mosaic design would be painted as shown with epoxy paint. Once the paint has cured, three coats of epoxy clear -the first one with added metallic sparkles, would be applied for a diamond hard finish. A dance floor section would be painted in front of the main bar and the lounge area.


The faux-pebble texture, the colors, outlines and a stone patterns, would absolutely make all the elements in the design scheme look truly astonishing.


A absolutely gorgeous view of the completed design.

The final task would be to paint the wall facing the dance floor with access to the restrooms at the ends. This is an important wall because it would contain a chromatic screen were videos and effects can be projected from a short-throw LED projector installed on the ceiling. The large size screen is painted on a smooth surface with chromatic-paint specifically made for projection. The projected area will match the dance floor pattern on the floor. On the right hand side of the screen, a large acrylic mirror would be added the balance the composition and for effect. Having the projection screen and dance floor as designed, adds tremendous flexibility to this entertainment area. In addition, LED spots in the rafters pointing directly above the dance floor design would give it its own inviting radiance.


The existing dance platform on the floor would be removed to create a lever floor surface where a pattern defining the dance area would be painted on. A chromatic projection screen framed with black paint would be created on the back wall. A large acrylic mirror would be added to the right side of the screen.


"Russia, if you are listening, let's create this Russian Club Bar design!"

Unfortunately, the client lost his lease before he could put any plans in motion. I really, really wanted to transform this place with this concept, because I felt the Russian-theme design was one of my best creations. In the end, the client recreated the Barfly in Kent, Ohio, under the name "Barflyy" in 2019. The decor was entirely different and I designed it too. So, check out the link in the Rest & Bar Design page in the Menu. Still, I would love for someone to invest in a club where I could make these designs a reality. My number is on the contact page.

Muralmaster® is ‘an educational site’ privately sponsored and maintained. It contains no pop-ups, sales banners or advertisements. People from over thirty countries routinely visit Muralmaster to enjoy the articles and admire the art. This website is also a great learning tool for artists and young students wanting to know more about the inner workings of this artistic profession. In Muralmaster they get what they can’t get elsewhere: an intimate and sobering look into the struggles of an artistic mind and the difficult career-realities of being an artist.