One of the most popular nightclubs serving Madison’s queer community has hit the refresh button after allegations of mismanagement, discrimination and harassment.
Plan B, a 6,000 square-foot venue at 951 Williamson St., shut down in mid-February after a decade operating as the “hottest Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender bar and dance club” in Madison. Now, the space has re-opened as Prism, a venue that owner Rico Sabatini says will strive to be Madison’s “premiere all-inclusive nightclub.”
Sabatini opened Plan B with business partner Corey Gresen in 2009. The venue enjoyed immediate success — lines of 50 to 60 people wound out its door on Friday and Saturday nights. Sabatini left the business in 2014 to pursue a career in real estate but decided to come back to the space in early January, heartbroken over the state of his former club.
“I didn’t like seeing the changes that were happening with Plan B over the years,” he said.
Sabatini’s frustrations with the state of Plan B were shared by other patrons and regular performers. An incident in December, in which Plan B managers barred a drag queen from using the club’s dressing rooms and bathrooms, precipitated an apology and a torrent of frustrated comments on the venue’s social media page, and an in-depth story published by the LGBT magazine Our Lives describing a litany of “long-simmering disputes.”
Those complaints included alleged mistreatment of performers and staff by ownership, harassment and inappropriate touching of clientele, a lack of inclusive programming, unsafe and dilapidated amenities, and discriminatory treatment of patrons — women, people of color, and transgender individuals in particular.
“I still have a video that I sent to the managers of a girl on a go go box being touched without consent by one of the off duty security officers,” wrote one commenter, Ariel LeBron, on Plan B's Facebook page.
“Half the lights dont/didnt work in the bathrooms so there were extension cords running for weeks for lights,” wrote another, Derrick Harris. “Half the bathroom stalls dont even lock.”
The drag queen Regina Lynn Taylor was among the performers who dropped ties with Plan B following the events of December. Taylor, who held the title of “Queen B” at the club, said that the venue was a cornerstone of the drag community and had played a formative role in her teenage years. She had become increasingly cognizant of patterns of disrespect toward performers at the venue.
“Especially toward the end, it took a downward spiral. It kind of turned into one of those gigs, where I would turn up and do it, and I wouldn’t stay much longer,” she said.
Taylor said that she’s feeling hopeful about the launch of Prism. She summed up her feelings in pageantry terms: “I feel like Plan B, or Prism, has gotten back their judges’ sheet. They’ve gotten the list of items that they know need to be fixed. If they keep the promises that they made, and continue with this positive vision of what they have for the club ... I’m optimistic.”
The new venue opened on March 1 featuring many aspects of its former identity. It explicitly caters to the city’s queer community, and much of its legacy programming has survived, including the club’s under-21 nights on Thursdays and Screaming Queens Karaoke. Sabatini said Prism will continue to host drag and burlesque performances.
The interior has been given a fresh coat of paint, new lighting, repaired and upgraded locks and amenities, a new sprawling graffiti art mural on its walls. A new section dedicated to drag shows and other performances is an innovation that Sabatini said would keep the dance floor open during shows.
Sabatini stressed that the new club has taken steps to ensure that it will be inclusive and safe, not just for gay customers, but for others in the LGBTQ community and beyond.
Sabatini hired new staff as part of that active pursuit of an inclusive space, noting the addition Lili Luxe as the space’s events coordinator. Luxe is a longtime Madison promoter and activist; she had been among Plan B’s critics prior to the relaunch. Sabatini said that she’ll be focused on diversifying the venue’s performance lineup.
Apollo Marquez, the former owner of the now-defunct Inferno Nightclub, is also joining the team, said Sabatini. The two are negotiating shared ownership of the venue.
Sabatini added that the staff has undergone training on how to treat and cater to transgender patrons, and have learned some American Sign Language. Staff has been instructed to take “drop everything they’re doing and take an active stance” if they become aware of a harassment or safety issue. The music will diversify too, beyond “just pop.”
Sabatini said that so far, the relaunch has been a hit, describing the first weekend of business as a “blowout success.” He acknowledged that Prism will have to work to mend bridges that had been broken.
“There was a lot of messiness and hurt feelings (with Plan B). The only thing that I can do is encourage people to give us a try again,” he said.
Taylor said that she’s relieved that the club will remain a fixture for drag performances.
“If Plan B were to have gone under, there would really be only one other venue (for drag) in Madison,” she said, referring to FIVE Nightclub on the city’s south side.
Taylor has already booked a performance at Prism for next month.
“Coming from someone who’s very involved in the gay community in Madison, I know my friends were excited to go back there and support it,” she said.