Sunday, August 17, 2008

The High Priestess of Punk Makes Her First Appearance

It's a Tuesday night shortly after Labour Day, 1997 and my bestest friend in the whole world wants Jim and I to join him at the bar. While not remotely my scene, we drag ourselves down to listen to the likes of Kinnie Starr, Veda Hille and Oh Susanna. Ty kind of has it cool. His parents own this pretty funky building in the east end of town and in this building there are two separate and distinct drinking establishments, band rooms for bands to lease and practice out of and about two dozen rooms of varying sizes that the family rents out on a weekly basis to an odd assortment of characters. The primary bar has a seating capacity of about six hundred and is one of the few live entertainment venues that our fair city has to offer. There is a smaller, separate establishment also licensed that can seat just under 100 if squeezed in properly. We were lounging in the smaller venue this particular evening. There was actually a capacity crowd for the room and only one bartender catering to these obviously thirsty emo imbibers. Natch!

I pride myself on my generosity as a customer. While I don't over tip because that is simply vulgar, I have been known to nicely compensate the server who takes the time to remember what we drink and to ensure that we are never left staring at a glass of ice. Keep 'em coming and keep 'em coming correctly and you can be sure to make an easy $15-20 off of us by the end of your shift. Bless his heart but Justin, our very much overwhelmed bartender that evening, was way out of his element Service was beyond awful. I spent the night teasing Ty about all that lost money and how I could do a better job half asleep. Just the booze talking of course. About ten days later, Ty approaches me in all seriousness and asks me if I would basically be interested in putting my money where my mouth was. He was getting tired of the responsibility of looking after both rooms for his parents and was seriously getting itchy feet. He wanted to pursue a career in the profession that he had spent four years at university studying, a career in his chosen field, the one in which he had earned his degree in. He did not want the responsibility of having to look after the family business anymore, even if said business was cooler than most.

His only way out was showing his parents that there were other options for the two licensed establishments. If he could get rid of the smaller venue to someone else it would mean considerably less work for him and the chance to perhaps do the same for the larger room. Would I be interested in leasing the spot from his parents and in turn making it uniquely my very own? Well, at the time I certainly wasn't looking to start my own business but his offer certainly sounded intriguing in theory so after asking him numerous times if he was actually serious, I decided to take a risk and go for it. So, at the age of 33 I gave notice to the only job that I had known since graduating from university eight years prior and with basically next to no capital began my own business. No capital. No business plan to speak of. No direction at all really. I had a fully licensed establishment that could hold a maximum of 100 individuals and some acts that he had booked for the next four weeks. After that, nothing.

Jim was working in a machine shop at the time making pretty decent money. Overtime was never an issue so he could pretty much work as many hours as he wanted, so financially we were secure enough. Ty floated me the capital so that I could afford my initial inventory and I had six months in which to repay this initial investment. Rather than a set rental amount, we negotiated my rent to be 15% of my gross monthly sales. I paid all of the room's utilities as it was separately metered and any enhancements that I wanted to make to the room itself ie. better sound equipment for any of my future bands. Otherwise, I was in complete control. Because of its size, from day one I decided that none of my events would be all ages. I didn't have enough legal seating to take this chance. If you were going to frequent my little lounge then you better have proof that you could legally drink. I in return would endeavor to keep my prices as low as feasibly possible.

Ty promised to hold my hand for approx three months until I became familiar with local agents and became comfortable booking my own entertainment. As it turned out I didn't even get this from him. Pretty much after my first month I was on my own. Talk about trial by fire but I am if nothing a quick learner and very adaptable to ever changing situations, traits that ensured my continued survival in an extremely fickle market. It didn't hurt that I entered the scene at a time when local punk bands could not get a show anywhere within about a 30 mile radius of the city and were absolutely desperate for any place that would give them local exposure. I couldn't imagine any other type of music gracing my doorstep that it was literally a match made in heaven. Almost immediately I developed a hard core nucleus of rabidly loyal customers. They told two friends who quickly told two friends and so on and so on.

Within six months, my shit hole was grossing over $15 000 a month. With their 15% cut, Ty and his folks were realizing over $2500 a month considerably more than they had been able to bring in revenue when they were looking after the bar themselves and substantially more than they would ever have paid had they rented the place based on square footage. Life was sweet for everyone but it was exceptionally sweet for Jim and I.

Surprisingly enough it was during this time that we developed a serious habit, something I now look on back with near disbelief. Had it not actually happened to us I would be hard pressed to believe anyone else were they to regale me with tales about this amount of consumption and obvious disregard to the ultimate outcome that such recklessness can only produce. We were still young, beautiful and anything and everything that we touched still turned to gold. We couldn't see the end through our opiate haze. This was one party train that couldn't or wouldn't derail. Boy, were we incredibly stupid or naive. Hard to say, but when we crashed, we came thundering back to earth with such an impact that its effects are still being felt to this day.


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