With the news that two longtime San Diego entertainment hubs would be shuttering, San Diego music fans are wondering if their scene will survive or become another victim of COVID-19.
Last week, word came down that Bar Pink, one of the pioneers in revitalizing North Park, was shutting its doors after more than a dozen years, with a published report citing a sale to a hospitality group. The venue hosted thousands of bands over the years, including some fronted by one of its former co-owners, John "Swami" Reis, of Rocket From the Crypt and other notable bands
Martini's Above 4th was nestled in the heart of Hillcrest. Some might say it was the heartbeat of that community's music and entertainment scene. The club, which featured everyone from local blues and jazz artists to Broadway singers, closed its doors some three weeks ago by most accounts, but Monday, on the company's website the owners posted, "We have concluded there is simply no real viable path forward for Martinis Above 4th and decided to close the business and file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection."
As popular as it was, Martinis had no outdoor space to serve food -- a source of revenue for some clubs around the county trying to make the most of it in these challenging times.
Many venues, though, just don't have that option. Soda Bar, for instance, has been shuttered since mid-March, not even reopening briefly in June when the coronavirus briefly permitted the opening of bars to a small percentage of their occupancy.
"We've thought about [serving food] -- the problem is we've never been known as a neighborhood bar," co-owner and club booker Cory Stier told NBC 7 on Tuesday. "We're a venue, and the neighborhood isn't developed in a way that North Park is, so that walk-up clientele isn't there."
Like most of San Diego's music clubs, Soda has been trying to survive the very expensive downtime.
"Soda Bar is in hibernation," Stier said. "We've done the merch thing; we might release more items, but it really only goes so far, you now, financing, taking care of the bills."
And the bills are big, and they have to be paid. Stier said the club owners have taken out small business loans to pay the monthly $4,000 rent.
"[It's] not a lot if you're open in normal times, but it's hard to come up with four grand when you're not able to operate your business normally," Stier said, adding later, "I guess what's terrifying is when you hear how long this might last and then, you drive around and you see other businesses operating like, per usual, in a way, and you're not even able to open."
Stier and his partners have talked about how long they can last, but "it's yet to be determined" if and when they would consider closing.
"We've talked about it, but it all comes down to how this next stimulus plan comes out, because we've been waiting since July for this to come out but they've done nothing," Stier said.
As upsetting as it was to hear about the club closures this week, Stier had little difficulty comprehending how such decisions become a necessity.
"It, you know, is disheartening. but I also completely understand," Stier said. "I don't know what their financial situation is but, granted, without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, for some, it's easier to cut your losses and move on."
Personally, Stier has been living off some savings and collecting unemployment, and has spent some time contemplating the state of the industry and pondering his own future.
"You look into other s--- you might need to do for a career," Stier said. "That's the most unsettling part. I look into what I might actually want to do. I'm sure there are a ton of other things I could do, but I would rather not. I don't really know what's next. That's been the weird part."
As is the case with the club, Stier's not ready to give up on his musical career.
"I haven't succumbed to it yet," Stier said. "I know others have, but I have confidence that things will change sometime next month."
Here's a roundup of how clubs are faring now:
- Bar Pink: Closing permanently
- Blonde Bar: Closed permanently
- Martini's Above 4th: Closing Permanently
ASKING FOR HELP
- Kava Lounge: Saved by GoFundMe, at least temporarily
- Lestat's West Music Venue: Closed temporarily, GoFundMe launched in September
- Bassmnt: Closed temporarily
- Brick by Brick: Closed temporarily
- Casbah: Closed temporarily
- House of Blues; Closed temporarily
- Music Box: Closed temporarily but available as a "space to rehearse, stream live sets, produce video or photo shoots or virtual, hybrid or micro event"
- Observatory North Park: Closed temporarily but available for venue rentals
- Pour House: Closed temporarily. Underwent renovations this summer. Expected to reopen in next several weeks
- Seven Grand: Closed temporarily
- Soda Bar: Closed temporarily
- Tower Bar: "We got to open for 17 days in June, but we haven’t opened since they made bars shut again. I don’t have any plans to open anytime soon unless they lift the restrictions. But we’re also not closing for good."
- Whistle Stop: Closed temporarily but streaming Vamp nights. Next one is Oct. 29
OPENED IN SOME CAPACITY
- Air-Conditioned Lounge: Selling take-home cocktail kits
- Belly Up: Serving food, livestreaming show, including Save Our Stages stream with Jazon Mraz last Saturday
- Black Cat Bar: Serving ceviche and craft tacos with jukebox music
- Fluxx: Selling "dinner packages"; Funny People Comedy Show on Oct. 23, with Ralph Porter, Benji Garcia Reyes, tables only, sounds by DJ Dale "Da Dred" Dorsett
- The Holding Company: Serving food
- Humphrey's Backstage Live and Concert's by the Bay: Serving food now as renamed Humphreys Concerts Bayside Cafe
- The Merrow: Serving food, with seating outside
- Park & Rec: Serving food
- Parq Restaurant & Nightclub: Reopened Oct. 9; serving food, showing sports on giant screen with socially distanced tables
- Ramona Mainstage: On Oct. 2, announced a May 1 booking of the Who Experience: A Tribute to the Who and Led Zeppelin
- Space Bar: Serving food. Sept. 23: DJs Disorder and Israey
- Til Two: Serving food, DJs, livestream shows
- Tio Leo's: Serving food, outdoor performance on the weekends
- Winston's: Outdoor parklet, streaming shows, sports TV, serving food