- Guided by Voices' Doug Gillard (far left) has fond memories of the Grog.
The Grog Shop is a smoky rock club with bombed-out bathrooms and a subway's aesthetic. The place is dingy and cramped, and packed shows leave you feeling far too well acquainted with the armpits next to you.
But underground rock and hip-hop were meant for clubs as gritty as the music, and the Grog has brought out the best of many a band, from such current stars as System of a Down and Matchbox 20 to indie favorites Sleater-Kinney and Yo La Tengo. It's one of the greatest rock spots Cleveland has ever had.
None of this has helped the Grog hold onto its lease, though, and so, after a three-day blowout this weekend, when close to two dozen local favorites -- from Disengage to Rosavelt -- will shoehorn themselves onto the stage one last time for a series of free shows, the Grog will shift down the street, to the former Arabica coffeehouse at the corner of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard. Opening Friday, July 11, the new digs are more spacious and clean -- which is exactly why the old Grog will be missed. To commemorate the club's move, we spoke with a variety of national and local artists about their favorite memories of the old room.
Matt Schulz, drummer for Enon
"I hate to see the old location go, but I am singing praises to the brutal, torturous death of the worst club bathrooms this side of the squats in Germany . . . Thanks to Kathy [Simkoff, club owner] for the years of bringing culture and good music to Cleveland."
Tony Erba, bassist for Amps II Eleven/ Nine Shocks Terror
"Grog Shop memories? Mine would have to include the wild brawl at the Meatmen show in '95 (I was acquitted); watching Chris from the Ruiners challenge everyone in the club to a fight, including the sound man (and his girlfriend); getting knocked out by a Daltrey-esque swing of the microphone by a certain Mr. Byers of Disengage; having my skull pulverized by Boulder and a stage full of vintage Marshalls; and my band, Nine Shocks Terror, playing a Halloween show in '99, when we put M-80s inside pumpkins on top of our amps and blew pumpkin slop all over every square inch of that place. I have to say, most clubs in this town can eat a goat's ass, but I always had a great time playing the Grog Shop. Plus, I ain't paid for a drink there in 10 years."
Apollo 9, saxophonist for Rocket From the Crypt
"We played there on a very cold night, though you wouldn't know it by the thermal temperature inside. I also remember not hearing a thing onstage, just a big pile of mush. It obviously couldn't have plagued our good time too much, though, as every time we've been back to Cleveland, I've asked myself, "'Why aren't we playing that sweltering little shoebox with the shit P.A.?'
"We actually arrived in Cleveland a day early for that gig, and our friends the Figgs were playing. A couple of us went down to see the show, and the Grog Shop more than lived up to its name. After the gig, the police were not amused when we mistook them for a taxi. We decided they should give us a ride anyway. Interestingly enough, they didn't see it that way."
George "Poohmanchew" Goins, hip-hop promoter
"We'll miss the old Grog Shop. Something about that dark hole gave it a real grimy feeling for Kings of the Iron Mic. I hope the new spot gets grimy real fast. To come to the old Grog, you really had to be a music lover."
Matt Pike, singer-guitarist for High on Fire
"It had a homey feeling. The people were real nice, and they got you real drunk. It was the dirty underbelly of Cleveland. That's what I remember about it."
Doug Gillard, guitarist for Guided by Voices/Gem
"I've played there every year it was open, and I always maintained that the old Grog had a dichotomy to it that was sometimes useful: Only when you stood in front of the stage did the band sound loud and intense; then, if you stood at the bar (in the same room, with no partitions), you could usually order your drink or talk to friends with no problem. And it usually didn't matter who it was -- if you weren't standing in the general direction of the PA soundwaves, everyone sounded like a trashy local band in someone's garage. Then you could walk between the soundboard and the bathrooms, and hear everything as screaming and full as you wanted it to be. Within a few short years of opening, it seemed like Kathy had all the necessary connections in place to book world-class bands, and it's good to know that will continue, just down the street. Viva la Grog!"
Molly Neuman, drummer for Bratmobile/manager of the Donnas and Lookout! Records
"After the sad closing of the other great Cleveland rock venue, 'The Euc,' Bratmobile finally was able to play the historic Grog Shop last summer. The folks were lovely, the friends were many, and we had a great time. The location was also the best, with the veggie soul food [also gone] only a wink away on the corner. I hope the new joint is as kicking and the history is just as full."
Greg Miller, guitarist for the Cowslingers
"The Grog is exactly what a rock club is supposed to be. Worn -- but better for wear -- good bartenders, great beer selection, and a never-ending run of great shows. The club has always been a place to turn it up and let it rip. Sure, no one in the band can hear in the upper registers anymore, but we have some great memories!"
Brian Straw, singer-songwriter
"The Chargers' last show at the old space stands out in my mind. There was a good feeling of community. After Speak in Tongues was shut, a lot of that scene started gravitating towards the Grog more, and that actually made the scene a little closer-knit. I think the new space could be a chance for the scene to zero in on that and work closer together. I'm very excited. I'm happy for Kathy. It's a fresh start!"