“We’re here to prove that you can have a nightclub that’s not a sleazy place,” says Adam Lowenstein. In February, Lowenstein and four partners were reopening the pair of troubled nightclubs they had quietly bought last fall and suddenly closed on New Year’s Day. Live at PJ’s is now LIVE and Goodnite Gracie has been rechristened The Last Word.

For the past couple of years, the clubs were owned by Robert Perkins, a drummer who tours with Michael Buble. When he bought them, Perkins told the Observer he hoped to turn PJ’s into “almost an old-fashioned supper club kind of experience.” Instead, it inherited the roving and often underage hordes that previously closed down Studio 4/Dream Nite Club and the Fifth Quarter. In response the club hired top-notch Detroit security, which kept trouble out of the bar but created problems in the city parking lot across the street–the cops had to use Mace to break up a fight there last October, and there were unconfirmed reports of gunshots.

Music bookings were also chaotic. “Sometimes musicians just wouldn’t show up,” says former PJ’s bartender Amanda Leavitt (who got her job back at the new LIVE). Chris Goerke, bass player for Drivin’ Sideways, the popular happy hour band, says: “I’d get emails from [Perkins] from Europe, asking us to fill in for someone.” Perkins had hoped that his industry connections would make the clubs a regular stop for nationally touring musicians. But Leavitt says, “The local acts were by far the most successful. The most popular bands were Friday afternoons, like Drivin’ Sideways,” which played about twice a month. James Dapogny’s regular Sunday night gig at PJ’s was another favorite, and FUBAR, which often played at Gracie, she says, “always drew a really cool crowd.”

Exactly who owned the clubs at the end is a puzzle. AnnArbor.com repeatedly wrote that they belonged to “Derek Aldridge.” Someone calling himself “D. Aldridge” posted an online comment on one story, identifying himself as the owner and leaving a phone number. But according to Leavitt and Goerke, “Aldridge” was actually Ethan Perkins, Robert’s brother. When we called the phone number, the man who answered insisted his name was Aldridge, not Perkins–but angrily refused to offer any proof of his identity.

There’s no such mystery about the new owners. Lowenstein and Justin Herrick own BTB and Good Time Charley’s, Paul Drennan and Robbie Schulz have the Alley Bar, and Nishi Narayan is a partner in Underground Printing. Their strategy for a non-sleazy nightclub is still evolving. They gave both places a thorough cleaning (Lowenstein pointed to the shiny hardwood floor at LIVE and says they sanded off three layers of grime before they hit wood) and added another small bar near the dance floor there, but otherwise haven’t made many physical changes.

They have, however, dumped the heavy Detroit security for local bouncers whose orders reportedly are to “avoid conflict.” Fancy $10 drinks may help keep some troublemakers away, though Lowenstein doesn’t see them as an exclusionary device. They are putting more emphasis on the separate natures of the two clubs: jazzy martini bar downstairs, bigger meet market/dance club upstairs.

Ann Arborites may think they know high-end cocktails, with the Ravens Club, Black Pearl, and Babs’ Underground Lounge specializing in every conceivable kind of ‘tini, based on top-drawer flavored vodkas. But Lowenstein says the “mixology” of the Last Word is going to leave those establishments in the dust. (Leavitt, Drennan, and Lowenstein all use the word with a kind of reverence more traditionally associated with “doxology.”)

Drennan, Glaswegian accent notwithstanding, came to Ann Arbor by way of the cutting-edge food and drink trends in Las Vegas, and he and Schulz are training the staff to use foams and aerosols: “You can turn anything into a foam,” says Lowenstein, explaining a complicated drink involving cilantro foam that will sell for $12 or $13. And, as in the food world, the hottest liquor trend is artisanally and locally crafted products. The soundtrack for this will be unobtrusive live jazz on Fridays and Saturdays.

LIVE, on the other hand, will remain a high-energy dance club. Contrary to its name, Live at PJs had DJs most nights. LIVE is pretty much staying with that format, with a couple of exceptions. On Wednesdays, the upstairs club will host some kind of “roots, blues, or bluegrass” music (neither Drennan nor Lowenstein could be more specific at press time). More importantly, due to a rapidly mobilized email and Facebook campaign, Lowenstein and Drennan decided to bring back the raucous Friday afternoon happy hour. “I set up an email account called LiveatPJs and gave [Lowenstein] the password,” says Goerke, who does the booking for Drivin’ Sideways. “We got 120 emails.” Lowenstein concurs that this changed their minds: “We were happy to respond to community pressure.”

The Friday happy hour tradition has passed through a succession of downtown bars and bands, ever since Michael Smith and the Country Volunteers introduced a rock-loving Ann Arbor to Texas swing music at Mr. Flood’s Party in the 1970s. The country-tinged roots of the weekly party have lately been carried forward by a monthly gig for Drivin’ Sideways, with singer Pete Ferguson and George Bedard on guitar–in a 2002 Observer review, Dan Moray described it as a band for “people who’d been tossed into the wood chipper of life.”

Goerke says: “I hope I’ll be playing there till I die. But we’re on a trial basis, through March.”

LIVE, 102 S. First, 623-1443. Wed., Thurs. & Sat. 9 p.m.-2 a.m., Fri. 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Closed Sun.-Tues.

The Last Word, 301 W. Huron, 623-1443. Tues.-Sat. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Closed Sun. & Mon.