It was only fitting that a crashing sound ripped through the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum last Thursday. The clatter came during the ceremonial addition of Agora Ballroom memorabilia to the Western Reserve Historical Society. Standing beneath the ballroom's trademark hot pink neon sign, flanked by photos of Stiv Bators exposing his cock and Ted Nugent acting like one, Agora owner Henry Lo Conti was about to address the crowd of around 200 when a framed concert photo crashed to the gallery floor. It was a telling moment, summing up the numerous interrupted moments of glory on the Cleveland club scene in recent months, as some of the most renowned and once-prosperous venues either fell by the wayside or had their futures thrown into question.
Indeed, the pile of broken glass was a pittance, compared to the mess that some local club owners have found themselves in this year. The downcast tone was set when the Euclid Tavern closed its doors for good in spring. Since then, the Blind Lemon has undergone an ownership change -- it was recently bought by the owners of the Revolution, who quickly parted ways with the club's booking agent and are pondering a name change. Long-embattled Metropolis, Cleveland's largest nightclub, also was just sold. And the Grog Shop finds itself facing an uncertain future, as the building it's housed in is up for sale.
"You never know what's going to happen," Grog owner Kathy Simkoff says. "I'm just prepared and aware and very proactive about telling the people that are buying the building that I want to stay, but I know nothing."
On top of instability, venues across the board have contended with slumping attendance.
"We're definitely in a recession that has affected what we're doing, particularly after the New York terrorist attack," says Cindy Barber, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom. "The reality is that we've managed to make a go of this . . . barely. We've been doing this for 18 months, and if we had regular salary requirements, we probably would have sold this already."
Eroded turnout has sent many club owners scrambling to tweak their businesses. For Metropolis, this means massive remodeling and a concerted effort to salvage its seedy reputation.
Metropolis general manager Donny, who doesn't give his last name, sums up the club's ill repute: "I've heard that it was either a punch palace or it was a place for people to go and just do massive drugs." The space, he says, needs to be gutted and redone. "It's like a 10-year monkey that you've been trying to get off your back, and you've just been waiting and waiting and waiting for the guy with the money to come in. I think the guys that are talking about taking over have the right ideas."
The club also plans to focus more on big-name national acts. To that end, it has already lured hot-shit DJ Paul Oakenfold, who'll be spinning on November 23.
The Lemon is also planning significant changes, including reducing covers to the $3 to $5 range and courting an older clientele.
"It's definitely going to cater to an older rock and roll crowd," Blind Lemon booking agent Kalin Stipe says. "A lot of people seem to have started to shy away from our club because of the number of kids that were hanging out there. We kind of got the reputation of being a kiddie, Christian metal, and punk rock club, and we're going 180 degrees away from that. We're providing similar music, but geared toward people that want to come out and don't want to socialize with high school kids."
The club also has hired former Warrant singer Jani Lane to run its kitchen. Expect a run on cherry pie.
Amid the turbulence, the one constant has always been the Agora, now in its 35th year. Still, in recent weeks, rumors have swirled that even that venue is about to be sold, and that last Thursday's event was to be Lo Conti's swan song. Lo Conti quickly put an end to such speculation.
"There's six people that are going to put me out of business," he said. "Three on each side of the coffin."