Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

The Club Tyrant

It looks like The Cactus Club, one of the oldest nightclubs in San Jose, is closing its doors soon.

Technically, the straw that broke the camel's back is that the Alcohol and Beverage Commission, which handles liquor licenses, is giving the club grief because they don't sell enough food. You see, nightclubs are technically the same as restaurants when it comes to their liquor licenses. To make matters worse, they have to sell a certain amount of food, or they will lose their license. (Note: This is patently stupid and has the effect of turning nightclubs which could feature interesting bands into boring, upscale supper clubs.)

However, there is one point to the article that I found particularly interesting / damning, and which explains why the club is really going under. (This point is made clearer in an article in Zero Magazine.) Jacek Rosicki, owner of the nearby Agenda Restaurant/nightclub, bought the building from the Cactus' former landlords, then raised the rent over the last 3 years from around $4000 to nearly $12000 a month.

As Mike Trippett, co-owner of the Cactus Club said, "The reason we are closing now is that Jacek (Rosiki) bought the building and is our landlord. He is a prick of a landlord. If you're one day late with the rent you get Fed X'd an eviction notice. It's ridiculous. He even tried to buy the four months back rent we had owed our old landlords from over the years to use it to evict us. He's made it abundantly clear he won't renew our lease when it's up. The city wants us out and have been pressuring us to become 21 and over, which we won't do, so they used the ABC to get us."

It's worth noting that something similar happened once before on San Jose's South 1st Street club district, involving some of the same players...

The Ajax Lounge, which was run by Chris Elliman and Chris Esparza, was one of the best and most creative clubs of the Nineties in San Jose. They negotiated with the landlord of Eulipia restaurant to run the upstairs space over Eulipia, which was traditionally unsuccessful. The two Chrises brought in bands that until then had never played in San Jose before. The music was traditional, yet new and energetic -- acid jazz, swing bands, rockabilly -- soon, the club was packed routinely. More significantly, however, was the fact that it was packed with a lot of local regulars, as opposed to rich yuppies looking for a bit of light jazz and a supperclub atmosphere. The Ajax also had one thing that was a rarity at the time for clubs in San Jose -- a real focus on beer and drinks.Not only were Guinness, Bass, and numerous other imported beers on tap, they were poured slowly, teasingly, lovingly into your pint glass. No plastic cups. The bartenders were also well known for their skills at mixed drinks and at socializing with their customers. People would wait specifically for Chris Elliman to get behind the bar, so that they could have him mix up one of his special Black Death martinis.

One day, however, in the middle of all their success, the two Chrises discovered they were locked out of the club with no explanation. It turns out that the club was being sold to Jacek Rosicki, who used it for the far more boring B-Hive. At first, the B-Hive tried to rip off what the Ajax Lounge did so well, but to their surprise, many of the previous patrons and bands who frequented Ajax were unwilling to support or play at the new club. The small club had to change its premise to survive. The new format? Cover bands...

To me, the fact that Jacek Rosicki has once again screwed over the local music scene is is no surprise, as I know firsthand how unscrupulous and dishonest he can be. When I worked at KSJS, we organized a benefit concert at one of his clubs. We were guaranteed a percentage of the revenue and promotion in the club's advertising for the event. However, not only did we not get any advertising from the club, Jacek failed to pay the radio station for the benefit, saying that if we tried fighting it, he would cut the radio station off from any promotional tickets or interviews with musicians for any events in the future.

So now, we're faced with the disappearance of the Cactus Club, the main club in San Jose for local bands for over a decade and the only club in town for live music that is 18+ rather than 21+. Long before it's demise, Jacek already had designs for what it would become. The indications are that it will be turned into an upscale jazz club. Incidentally, Rosicki is also the owner of the property directly next to The Agenda, which, according to this document, he plans on converting this into a poolhall. The seems to be a direct assault on 1st Street Billiards, perhaps the only other successful business on First Street.

So, why don't people open clubs elsewhere?! Because San Jose won't let them. First Street is one of the few areas in town where you can have a nightclub, due to oppressive zoning regulations. That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface on the other hoops they make you jump through to open a nightclub, of course. This is sad, because studies show that cities that are good at supporting a music scene do better at attracting the kind of young, talented, creative people that are needed to support a high-tech economy.

I have lived in San Jose for a long time, but it's clubs suck. Traditionally, the nightlife is so bad in the Silicon Valley that people will gladly drive an hour back and forth to go to San Francisco, which is actually a smaller city than San Jose. For me, it's gotten to the point where the nightlife is so bad that I might as well move to San Francisco instead where at least there is some kind of local feel to the place and where I can go to a club, have a drink, and listen to music that might actually increase my pulse.

At least the last night of the Cactus on June 30th will be a defining one. I am going, as it will be the last hurrah to what I used to know as the local music scene. Many of the old bands will be uniting for one last blast. Frontier Fuckin' Wives, Grey Matter, The Odd Numbers... it's a line up more like the last days of The Laundry Works, which closed nearly fifteen years ago. That's where the Cactus has it's roots, however.

Agent Orange, the legendary California punk band from the '80s, will be headlining. It should be a oldstyle beer-sodden punk spectacle. Now if only they can get the Diesel Queens to give it one last hurrah...

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