by Frank Lewis
The Jigsaw Saloon and Stage opened briefly for a Lucky Paws Animal Rescue fundraiser this past weekend, but the storied restaurant-nightclub remains closed for day-to-day business for the third week. Monday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health suspended the club’s food service license, citing an overdue renewal. Disappointed fans of the Parma institution reported seeing cleaning crews in the restaurant last week, but nothing resembling the promised “management training” yet. And the owners’ financial troubles seem no closer to resolution (“The Jig Is Up,” March 18).
Akron’s Black Keys, the area’s current ambassadors to the rock world at large, still haven’t been paid for two sold-out January shows at the Agora Theatre, which is being managed by a partnership between founder Hank LoConti and Jigsaw owner Phil Lara. With 3,800 tickets sold, the band should have received a $50,000 payday. The Keys filed suit against the Agora on March 3.
A big chunk of the tickets were sold through Ticketmaster, which can hold funds for up to three weeks. Nearly two months after the show, a Cleveland judge instructed the Agora to pay the band by March 20. As of March 23rd, the venue had yet to deliver the funds.
After the Agora staff was replaced with loyal Jigsaw minions, the new Agora booking crew took last week off. The venue released a schedule at the end of the week, but it didn’t include any new shows.
The Jigsaw Group fiasco is fall-out from a 2008 accumulation spree. After buying the Jigsaw in December 2007, Lara rapidly expanded over the following months, until he had a stake in three other Cleveland clubs — the Agora, the Hi-Fi Concert Club and Peabody’s. The Hi-Fi and Peabody’s bailed quickly, citing financial commitments that hadn’t been met.
The meltdown has left one club closed, hamstrung another, alienated the region’s biggest band and left dozens of employees in the lurch. But it could have been worse. Lara had explored buying other Cleveland institutions; here are three businesses he didn’t buy.
• Lava Room Recording. In initial talks, the Agora deal would have included Metrosync recording studios in the complex. At the same time, Lara made an offer to purchase Lava Room Recording, a Cleveland studio whose partners at the time included Hi-Fi owner Billy Morris. (Morris has since left the business.) Owner Mike Brown says the deal was lopsided and would have left the studio’s assets vulnerable. Brown says Lara also tried to pay him for sessions using an $1,800 check written from a closed account.
• Chimaira. The band’s bassist and business delegate Jim LaMarca says he met with Lara, who proposed purchasing the Cleveland metal heroes for $3 million, to be paid over five years. “I didn’t even take [the offer] to the band,” says La Marca. “They would have looked at me like, ‘Dude, are you crazy?’”
• The Beachland. Before getting a hook in the other concert venues, Lara made a bid on the Beachland, proposing to rename it “The Jigsaw Saloon and Stage at the Beachland Ballroom.” But owner Cindy Barber says the deal felt fishy. “I just didn’t think the Jigsaw was a more important entity than the Beachland,” says Barber. “I didn’t think it would be safe turning our much-beloved venue over to him.” — D.X. Ferris