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ON THE LEVEL
"AT LEVEL NIGHTCLUB, THE DANCE FLOOR IS NOT AN AFTERTHOUGHT."

Level nightclub

75 W. Chippewa St.

Crowd: Mostly 20s

Dress Code: Put on your dancing shoes

Best time to go: After midnight Saturday

Music: Hip-hop during prime hours

Signature drink: Apple Martinis

Dance floors are like chicken wings. Lots of bars feel the need to offer them, but only a few make the effort to do them right.

At Level nightclub, the dance floor is not an afterthought. This place is designed around it.

Located on the site of the former Zoo Bar, Level is the latest attempt to make a go of a big-city-style club in Buffalo. (Ah, memories of a prom in the ultra-cool Network.) From the velvet rope outside to the giant video screens inside - showing an array of music-centered images, not sports games - this place pulls out all the stops. There's even a bathroom attendant equipped with assorted gums, hard candy and friendly advice.

That's all great news if you're out for a night of clubbing. But consider yourself warned if you generally leave your dancing shoes at home.

The $6 cover we paid on a recent Friday night - which included admission to McMonkeez next door - is a little steep if Level is just one stop on your express party train. Also, don't expect 2-for-1 drink specials and 25-cent pitchers of beer. We paid $12.50 for a cosmopolitan and a martini, both of which were prepared well - and thoughtfully by bartenders who went to great lengths to ensure we got exactly what we wanted - but didn't deliver the bang for the buck you get in places that are more bar and less club. We weren't alone in ranking weak drinks as a chief complaint.

The camera crew roaming the joint for most of the night could be placed in the "somewhat annoying" category. No, it wasn't the Why Guy trying to learn the latest dance moves. It was "Street Level," the club's half-hour weekly infomercial, which is taped Friday nights and airs later in the weekend. Any inexplicable excitement created by seeing a local radio DJ in person vanishes the first time you feel like you've paid to be in the way.

Still, there's something to be said for a chic atmosphere without an arrogant attitude, and that's what makes Level great, even if you have two left feet.

Saturdays are generally busier than Fridays - the only days the club is typically open - and things usually pick up after midnight. When we arrived around 10:30 the music was a mix of dance standards spanning several decades, and only a few hearty souls ventured onto the floor. By midnight things had picked up, hip-hop currents filled the air, and the dance floor was comfortably full of a 20s-dominated crowd possessing varying levels of ability and enthusiasm. The music is complemented by a wicked lighting system, and the ever-popular fog machine is in full effect for those seeking some haze in an era of smoking bans.

"I like the setup a lot," said Crystal Centinello, 22, of Buffalo, who was in the club for the first time.

If you're more interested in people-watching, Level offers plenty of good spots. A second level, which features its own bar that opens as needed, forms a semi-circle around the dance floor on the main level. If you want to pretend you're a VIP who has tired of mingling with the masses, the Eve Room lets you sit down, grab a drink and talk without fear of permanent vocal damage. Located just steps from the dance floor, the room features sitting areas enclosed by see-through drapes and furnished with "couches" that look plush but are, much to our disappointment, actually plastic.

But that's where the fakery ends. When it comes to giving the club scene's beat-seeking missiles what they want, this place is on the Level.