Club La Vela
Club La Vela is a nightclub owned by Patrick and Thorsten Pfeffer, and is located in the resort community of Panama City Beach, Florida. It is billed as the largest nightclub in the United States. While open throughout most of the year, the club has gained most of its fame and infamy during the weeks of spring break when thousands of college students converge on the club.
Built in 1984 as La Vela Beach Club and Concert Hall, the venue was designed and built by German architect Alois Pfeffer. The original venue was much smaller than it is presently, but subsequently the club has added nine so-called "theme rooms", dance floors, swimming pools, bars and more.
From 1997-1999, World Championship Wrestling hosted an annual episode of WCW Monday Nitro at the venue in March. The purpose of each of the annual "Spring Break-Out" episodes was to gain favor with adolescent and young adult viewers who were not familiar with Nitro. The venue was also the site for the final episode of Nitro on March 26th, 2001.
The club today
Currently, Club La Vela's capacity stands at 6,000 patrons, and the club has evolved into a major entertainment complex. Different dance rooms cater to fans of house music, trance, rock and hip hop; one room also features foam blowers. During summer and spring break, the club also features "The Darkroom", a venue for patrons under 18 years old, and the club periodically hosts "Teenbashes", on Sundays in which the club is open only to teens with no alcohol service.
Because of its popularity during spring break, Club La Vela has been the focus of numerous media reports and events. MTV has made the club its home during numerous spring breaks over the past decade. The club is known for its bikini and wet T-shirt contests for women and "hard body" contests for men. Club La Vela has also been featured by E! and is the home party spot to the "Girls Next Door" and the Playboy Crew, and its original show Wild On.... Other cable and broadcast channels featuring Club La Vela include ESPN, TNT, Travel Channel, MSNBC, French channel Canal Plus and Germany's RTL II and Pro7. Dozens of retail brands have sponsored various events at the club.
The club has been the subject of numerous reports that it has been sold and is closing to make way for high-rise condominiums. The most recent reports had the club closing after the 2005 spring break rush, but the club remains open to this day. [dead link]
On January 6, 2014, Pfeffer expanded into broadcasting by taking over the operations of WPCF, an AM radio station in Panama City that also simulcasts on a FM Translator. The station plays a Dance format billed as "Play 93.9" and will serve as a tie-in to the club's events and activities.
Largely because of its size, popularity, party atmosphere and frequent media coverage, Club La Vela has been subject of several run-ins with the authorities. Occasional troubles with the Bay County sheriff have occurred over the years, with little or no legal action resulting against the club itself or its owners.
That changed in June 2001, when the owners and the club's corporate parent Sea Watch of Panama City Beach, Inc. were indicted by a federal grand jury for violating a federal statute which makes venue owners liable for the drug use of their patrons. The charges were the end result of a five-year investigation of Club La Vela.
At the October 2001 trial, prosecutors showed the jury BlowPops, chewing gum and glow sticks that were seized in the raid. The items were presented as evidence of drug use, despite no evidence of actual drugs. After just more than an hour of deliberation, the jury found the defendants not guilty on all counts. [dead link] A federal grand jury which heard all the evidence cleared the club and its owners of all charges and the club has since hired former law enforcement veterans to run their security.
- Dance Plays In Panama City from Radio Insight (January 6, 2014)