Medellín Colombia’s Mélodie Lounge sets the trends for the city’s international crowd
BY JOHN C. TRIPP
Medellín Colombia’s upscale “El Poblado” district is not unlike any other trendy tropical “zona rosa” neighborhood. Green abounds, with plants and trees sprouting like an exotic salad, matched by a multitude of trendy shops and cafes lining its avenues and sidestreets. And then there’s the continuous buzz of street traffic, both vehicular and human, creating a continuous sonic and visual canvas. It’s a chaotic and stimulating South American neighorhood where the city’s beautiful people and the occasional tourist group gather to shop, socialize and show off.
At the center of Poblado’s scene is parque Lleras, a sloped, tree- and people-packed park lined by outdoor cafes and bars. For anyone seeking a central meeting in the and hangout place this would be it. It’s all fun and fabulous — for a while anyway. But soon the continuous stream of blaring vallenato, ranchero and top 40 music grades the nerves of any musical purist. And the chattering groups of teens and twenty-somethings (not to mention the drunk Israeli guys on the hunt for Latin chicas) adds to the sense that maybe it’s time to move on. Surely there must be something other than this, something that more discerning tastes can appreciate. It’s time to explore…
Walking the side streets of any city always reaps rewards. It’s where the off-beat boutiques, shops and cafes are typically found. And the formula certainly applies to Poblado. As the maddening noise of parque Lleras fades the neighborhood’s quieter streets reveal a more subdued side to the district. And it’s here where one finds the oasis of sound, cuisine and downtempo vibes known as Mélodie Lounge.
A few years ago one might have walked from one end of Medellín’s long valley to the other in search of a place like Mélodie Lounge and come up empty. This is a city more prone to tradition, which in social terms means a bottle of Aquardiente, (an anise flavored clear alcohol that is better left to locals) and some vallenato music at a corner bar. But Medellín is growing and changed drastically since the dark days of Pablo, finding itself landing on the other side of chaos with a new lease on life. And with small steps a forward-thinking, modern and cutting-edge Medellín is revealing itself.
Amongst those with the vision of the new Medellín are Mélodie Lounge’s three partners, along with the team of architects, interior designers, chefs, musicians-Djs and other creatives that put the lounge concept to action. Mélodie Lounge, with its sleek, tropical-modernist aesthetic has become an oasis of all things cool in Medellín. With a musical selection that encomposses both tropical and downtempo sounds, a worldly menu of wraps and vegetarian entrees, delicious drinks and a mellow but fun environment it is a place to call home.
With a concept that was considered radical by Medellín standards, Mélodie Lounge has proven that the city is ready for cutting-edge nightlife. To add to the lounge’s list of accomplishments are recent promotional and media ventures, including appearances by France’s Rhinocerose, Argentina’s Bajofondo Tango Club, a radio program on Medellín’s Cámera FM station and a CD compilation of Colombian electronic artists entitled “Lounge.Co”. Much more is on the horizon for Mélodie Lounge and Mundovibes spoke with the similarly named and equally amicable partners Carlos H. Estrada and Carlos E. Estrada on the making of Mélodie Lounge and what lies ahead.
Mundovibes: How long has Melodie Lounge been open?
Carlos E Estrada: It’s been 18 months now.
Mundovibes: How did you get into the club and lounge business? How did you start working together?
Carlos H Estrada: Well, we were friends a long time ago. Maybe 15 years. We are three partners and we worked together in different kinds of businesses. Carlos and Daniel had a couple of bars in the ‘90s. Then he had a café with a friend. In the meantime Daniel and me had a house club two years ago. And later we got together once again with the idea of doing something together and that’s when Mélodie Lounge took form. It was basically like an interest, being involved with the nightlife and after all it has become a good way of putting into practice what we have learned somewhere else. And building this new company and making it work.
Mundovibes: Can you just give me a little background on you two and your inspiration to start it?
Carlos E: And the reason why we opened Mélodie Lounge was because there were not really a place with this environment, to visit. Because it’s a quiet environment, but it’s not the kind of quiet environment that you can find in the city, which are not really into fashion.
Carlos H: And the thing is, we had different businesses before. But they were very upbeat, almost dancing bars. Now we thought there was a need in the city for a comfortable place to have a good meal and a couple of drinks without too much. A quiet place, there was a need. So, we decided to open Mélodie Lounge with a lot of sofas, and a good selection of music that could make a good environment. Then we started working with several friends, which was a great thing about it. It was a good opportunity to work with many friends.
Mundovibes: From different fields?
Carlos H: Exactly. Architects, chefs, graphic designers, industrial designers. Each one of them were able to contribute their experience and their expertise to the project.
Mundovibes: What influenced you the most in terms of how it developed? The style is very modern, very colorful, very contemporary. And the music reflects that as well. Were there places in your travels that you’ve said ‘wow, I’d love to do this type of thing’.
Carlos E : Maybe. We wanted to have a lounge and this was our version of it. It was like a mix of ideas from all the team. So, that was what made it so interesting.
Mundovibes: And how did the music programming develop?
Carlos H: One of the reasons why we opened Mélodie Lounge was because even if here you can find good places to have a beer, they don’t really think that music is important. They don’t really pay enough attention to the music. They don’t really think that this is an important part of the place. We disagree with that, we think that when you think of a place you have several things to take care of. And one of the most ones is the music. Of course, the menu is important, the drinks, the design, and the prices are important in Medellín. The important thing is to put all of them together. And to put it together you know there has to be some harmony. And to at the end see the result and say ‘OK, this is the place I was dreaming of.’
Mundovibes: And from the point when you opened to now, how has it evolved? Have you stayed with the same plan?
Carlos H: Pretty much. The three of us are engineers, so we tried to plan ahead as much as we could. And we could say that what we have now is what we wanted to accomplish. Of course, in 18 months there have been too many things happening. The good surprise has been the response from the public. Because at the beginning it was a big challenge and risk for us. Everyone was telling us that we were crazy trying to open such a unique kind of place in Colombia. And after all this time working, we have been surprised of the good response. Everyone is happy and thank us for being visionary, taking the chance.
Mundovibes: So, would you say the market was just waiting for you to bring this to them or did you have to educate people and explain the whole concept.
Carlos H: Very much.
Carlos E: When we opened, we were the first lounge to open in the city. Because of the results a lot of people started to open places calling them “lounge”. And they were more with house music. So, it’s difficult to explain to people that here or anywhere in the world lounges are more quiet and for chilling out. Not really like a dance place, it’s a lounge. In that way we can say there was some work done about educating people.
Mundovibes: You’ve had some good press coverage too.
Carlos H: We have been lucky in that field because of the success of the place, the media has been getting more and more interested in our work. And it has been for us because it gave us the opportunity to talk about our work. And to open the scope of the project. Because nowadays people look for us and for catering different events. They look for us when they need music. When they want new ideas about anything they come to Mélodie looking for our advice and things like that.
Carlos E: The other thing is I think everyone goes to Mélodie Lounge thinking about one special attraction and for some people the attraction is the music that we play, for others the food, for others the cocktails. If you are thinking about going to the States or Europe to buy a couple of Cds, they will come and ask for some advice. But if you are an architect and you like the design, you will ask ‘OK, I want to know how you come up with this idea’.
Mundovibes: So, like you said, having that collaborative team brought the best of everything out with the food, the style, the music.
Carlos H: Yes, and I think the key of the success of Mélodie Lounge. Because at the beginning all of the people were really afraid of the results that we were expecting. They were all thinking ‘is there really a market for this kind of idea?’ Here, most of the people go to drink aguardiente, to listen to tropical music, and there are not really good, good restaurants here. There are just a few good restaurants. So, they were always asking us ‘OK, tell me once again what kind of place do you really want to open? As I understand it’s not really like a bar because you are telling me there is a menu. But, on the other hand, you are telling me that this is more like a sofa place. So, this is not a restaurant.’
Carlos E: It was unique, so no one really understood it right away.
Carlos H: On the other hand they were saying ‘OK, here there’s not really an electronic music culture.’ We were explaining what kind of music we were using for the place and at the end they were saying ‘you can call it whatever you want, but for me this is electronic music. And for me electronic music is for dancing.’ So, at the end you are opening a restaurant without tables, you’re saying that you are going to sell cocktails but you have a menu. And the kind of music you are going to play is dance music and you don’t have the space for dancing.
Mundovibes: It probably feels good now that you are successful and have introduced the concept to Medellín.
Carlos E: Yes, that’s what we were talking about, because now people are like ‘now I understand.’
Mundovibes: Can you give an overview of the way the design came together?
Carlos H: That’s a good question and what we did wasn’t very premeditated. When we got together with this team we wanted to put together a place that could transmit well-being and peace and a comfortable ambience. And that was our starting point. So, after all we did was put together pieces that could work to transmit that overall result.
Mundovibes: Is your regular crowd people that are in the fashion industry or people that have traveled and they understand having seen it elsewhere.
Carlos H: People ask us that question often and I think Mélodie Lounge is a place where it can be easy to understand for someone that has been traveling a lot, that is open minded, that receives a lot of information. So, you can say that designers, architects, or people in the fashion industry, they understand it very well and they feel comfortable here. For some other people, sometimes it’s interesting because it’s something really different from what they are used to. So, it’s a bit shocking but being such a quiet place and at the end of the day they begin to love it.
Carlos E: Because of all the different things that you can find in Mélodie Lounge, it’s so difficult to define a target. People say asked us this when Mélodie Lounge started. And it’s so difficult because when you say ‘this is the place to talk, to have a chat without screaming because the volume of the music is not very loud.I think that there is always time for a place like Mélodie Lounge. Because sometimes you feel like having a cocktail and talking for a while. Sometimes you have to wake up early.
Carlos H: Most of the time people try to segment the market just by age. And that doesn’t happen with Mélodie because we are not in a specific segment for the age group. We are aiming just for any kind of people who want to spend a nice evening chatting and relaxing. So, that could be from the youngest to the oldest. As long as they want to have a nice quiet evening. And, you cannot say that is just for relaxed people, or whatever. Because sometimes you can be an extreme party-goer but any time in the week you feel like going out, it depends on what you want to do that specific moment. And that’s why we open every day from five in the afternoon. That way we are available for anyone at anytime.
Mundovibes: What’s the biggest thrill you get out of running Mélodie Lounge?
Carlos H: It’s been good to be able to express ourselves, to show the people in this city our work. And that was our main objective, and when we saw the good response it was twice as good. Of course, it’s great to be in touch with people, to see their reaction, to listen to their ideas. It’s really rewarding for us.
Carlos E: I think one of the biggest satisfactions has been to be able to prove that there is space for these kind of places, even if you are in a tropical country. It’s good to be able to show a good place in a different. And that’s very interesting because a lot of people that come to Colombia think that all people here are the same thing, you know? In big cities you always find so many different people that go out to different kind of places…to try to change the culture a lot bit is a big satisfaction.
Carlos H: It has been good to break stereotypes for all kinds of people. For local people as well as outsiders that think that Colombia is a very basic place where you cannot find options or people with different ideas.
Mundovibes: Where will you be taking things — what are your plans for the future?
Carlos E: Well, so far we have found that the concept or the work we have done with Mélodie is quite unique, at least in Colombia. So, we would like to see if we can take this to some other cities. Of course, it’s a wish. We are still studying the idea, thinking whether it’s feasible or not. But we’d like to let the thing grow and see what happens.
J.C. Tripp was a guest DJ at Mélodie Lounge while living in Colombia. He can’t wait to return.