Brendan Ring sits below the gilded proscenium that will frame his new stage and wonders how hard musicians bit their tongue when they had to look at the two poles that used to hold up Nighttown. The poles are no longer there.
Finally, a jazz club in Cleveland with decent sight lines (yes, there’s the Bop Stop on the near West Side, essentially a vanity project that opens erratically at best and is now for sale. A sweet, acoustically exquisite room, it’s criminally underused). Rhythms, a short-lived club of the early ‘90s in the Hanna Building downtown, had poles, too.
“Those columns have driven me crazy from the day I walked in the door,” says Ring, as the club celebrates its 45th anniversary.
Ring bought the Nighttown building at Cedar and Fairmount in Cleveland Heights in 2001. He’s putting about $130,000 into a renovation that will increase seating to 140 from the current 100. He will outfit it with 80 tables custom-made by A Piece of Cleveland, using recycled wood APOC “deconstructed” from dilapidated and foreclosed houses in the region. He’s having chairs made in Indonesia. Designed by Joseph Hanna, the architect responsible for the look of the imminent Nighttown iteration, they will be stained dark with red highlights, reflecting the wall tonality. Also being fabricated in Indonesia: a wooden Nighttown sign that will be lit off a heavy velvet curtain hanging from the proscenium.
The proscenium is a tall tale for sure. The short version is it’s a decorative plaster rib from a room on the City of Detroit, a steamship that used to ply Lake Erie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Oh, yes, the bar. When you enter Nighttown now, there’s dinner palaver and big noise from the bar. Ring plans to install 10-foot-high, glass-and-mahogany accordion doors between the bar and the music room. “Let’s say we have a show only 60 people come to,” he says. “I will now have the ability to shut the bar off from the music room so you can listen to the music without having to listen the bar crowd.”
Celebrating the new space at Nighttown.
In addition, the whole room finally will be on one level, with video cameras mounted into the broad support beam in the middle of the ceiling so bar patrons can view the performance. Ring is converting the rumpled and friendly nightclub into a svelte jazz showcase. Nighttown is open for business throughout. The new look should debut at the end of March.
Why renovate now? “There’s a very easy answer to that,” says Ring. “The Bush tax cuts expire in 2010, and when you renovate, as long as you get it done this year, you’re able to expense all your renovations in one shot. Come next year, I’d have to expense it over 15 years.”
It’s been nearly 10 years since Ring took over Nighttown, where he’d been a bartender. In 2007, in accepting the Cleveland Arts Prize, he displayed a 1967 Down Beat magazine listing 16 jazz clubs in Cleveland. He doesn’t think the audience has disappeared even though the clubs have.
“My solution is to have a restaurant that’s successful and not be afraid to lose money on jazz,” says Ring, adding Nighttown makes money on about half of its jazz shows. “But I’m selling dinners in the meantime.
“This is all about the music,” says Ring, who has made Nighttown the key jazz venue between Chicago and New York with the help of promoter Jim Wadsworth. “Our e-mail list is about 8,000 people, and we have to invest in this. Three out of four nights a week, it’s a restaurant first; and everything we’re doing will help the restaurant, too.”