Thursday, July 1, 1999
As of July 16, there will be new life at the old After Dark. That''s when STARZ, a new live-music dance club, will open its doors. With any luck, it will fill some of the void left behind by this year''s closure of the After Dark, Whitey''s Place and Doc''s Nightclub. Spearheading the project is Kathi DeMaria, longtime owner of El Nido bar just down the street on Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey.
DeMaria has owned El Nido (which will pour its last draft at the end of August) for 22 years. Asked what made her decide to open up a dance club featuring live music, DeMaria smiled and simply said "You only live once, so live!"
Judging from her background, the bar-end of the business at STARZ should not be a problem. But booking music is a new aspect of the business for DeMaria. To help get the club on solid musical footing, she has turned to Steve Vagnini (who currently books acts for BlueFin Caf, Sly McFly''s and Fernwood, as well as manages a number of local bands), though she says that she has already been approached by several musicians who are interested in playing STARZ.
DeMaria says that the local bar/club crowd in general has diminished drastically over the past years, and with it, venues for live music. Also, the clientele seems to have gotten older, putting the average patron at 35 and up. This in turn leaves hardly any entertainment for the younger crowd, since bar and club owners are eager to accommodate whatever clientele they have left. It also leaves a disenfranchised market of potential revelers that DeMaria hopes to capture.
Although the club is being radically remodelled, a few things will remain the same. The courtyard and adjacent back bar will continue to provide a wonderful break from the music. They are the perfect places to hang out, smoke, drink and talk while sitting by one of the two fireplaces or on a bench surrounded by an abundance of plant life. Says DeMaria, "STARZ offers something for everyone, whether it be sitting at the bar, listening to music or visiting with friends outside or in the back bar where the sound is much more subdued."
Ambiance, she says, is one of the most important ingredients to her, creating a place, a safe haven of sorts where people of any age (well, over 21, anyway) can enjoy themselves in a comfortable and fun atmosphere.
Given the size of the main bar, I was more than skeptical about where a band could possibly set up without impinging on the dancers. DeMaria opened the doors to the future home of STARZ, asking me not to give away all of its secrets just yet. Suffice to say that room has indeed been created to accommodate the performers without taking away from the customers. Walking through the place filled me with a feeling of both familiar intimacy and change.
Although DeMaria is trying to plan for all the technical aspects that live music demands, she also says there will be a trial-and-error type of learning process. As time goes by, necessary technical and sound equipment may be added to better accommodate the needs of the performers. For now, the club will provide two speakers and plenty of outlets and plug-ins for all the equipment brought in. The cover charge turned out to be another trial and error issue, tentatively set between $2 and $5.
Future plans include at least one pool table, which will be covered each night before the music starts (9pm-1am), and a shuttle, running from downtown Monterey to Lighthouse Avenue, and possibly Cannery Row and back. For now, STARZ will be open Thursdays (DJ night) and Fridays and Saturdays, scheduled for live music. Come September, Sunday afternoon jazz in the courtyard may end each weekend''s party.
This could turn out to be a great new place for live entertainment. Half of the battle is already won; this place does and always will surround you with an astonishing ambiance, as soon as you step through the door. With a little bit of luck, determined promotion by the club owners and music promoters, and most importantly, support from the community, this could turn into a gem of a nightclub. Let''s hope.
But, STARZ isn''t opening until the 16th and in the meantime, this weekend has a few goodies lined up for your listening pleasure. Mick Overman, arguably the hardest working musician in California (he averages about 300 shows a year), returns to town, once again bringing an impressive set of players: drummer Peter Booras (Spang-a-Lang), keyboardist Lee Fisher (John Lee Hooker) and David Hayes, a Van Morrison bassist for over 20 years . Overman and his top-notch band play a mix of folk and rock that has earned them rave reviews time and time again. For those of you unfamiliar with the traveling man who has released three CDs, Empty City (1994), Lucky (1996) and Mileage (1998) to date, and if you''re in the mood for some soul-baring, sincere lyrics and rockin'' folk, catch him at the Blue Fin before he''s off again, traveling to show #197.
Mick Overman, Saturday, 9pm, Blue Fin Caf, 375-7000.
And for the Fourth of July, Lovers & Strangers will once again get together (did they really ever break up?) and party down at the Long Bar. Aside from delivering some awesome sound, these guys are simply great entertainers and worth your ear, anytime. Plus this''ll be a good time to check out a live show at the Long Bar and see if booking agent extraordinaire Matt Heimbold is not fibbing when he tells us that the space and sound really are better than they were at Doc''s.
Lovers & Strangers, Sunday, 9pm, Long Bar, 372-2244.