When Now That's Class owner Paul Shlach moved from New York to Cleveland several years ago, he had the chance to do what he couldn't do in New York: He got to open his own rock club. Taking over a former gay bar (you can still see the homoerotic murals on the club's walls, and Shlach says he has no plans to ever take them down), he's turned Now That's Class into a haven for experimental and noisy indie-rock acts that probably wouldn't be able to book a gig anywhere else in town.
Bands like the Black Lips (a self-described "flower-punk" band out of Atlanta) and the King Khan & BBQ Show (a grimy garage-punk band from Montreal) played the club on their way up the indie-rock ladder. The club has hosted numerous noise-friendly local artists too.
"I just wanted to expose people in Cleveland to these bands that were skipping the city," says Shlach one afternoon at the club. "Cleveland was lacking a good place for the underground bands."
Much like the now-defunct Speak in Tongues, Now That's Class runs by committee. Shlach says he's not out to make a profit and gives the door money directly to the bands.
"It's not your typical business model," he says. "We want to keep the covers low and the drinks cheap. I'm just trying to provide a fun place that's more of a hangout. We want to have DIY attitude with a good sound system."
Perhaps most symbolic of what Now That's Class is all about is the upcoming Romantic Getaway festival. Now in its fourth year (it was previously called Horriblefest), the three-day event features indie and experimental bands.
"It's now a fest of mostly garage and punk bands and some of what you'd call noise-rock," explains Shlach. "We have bands from all over the country, and there are even a couple from Canada and Europe. There's a bunch of people who drive from New York, New England and Boston. Half the people who come are from out of town. It's like a giant party."
To enhance the "party" vibe, Shlach is bringing in a hot tub for the weekend, and he'll host a barbeque on the club's patio. Among the festival's highlights: L.A.-based punk veterans the Stitches, who're flying in for their first Cleveland show in 10 years; the garage-surfy Magnetix, coming all the way from France; and New Orleans redneck punks Kajun SS. Parts of the show will take place on the club's outdoor patio; the music starts at 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday. (The club also offers a vegan and vegetarian-friendly menu to go along with the homemade Mexican food it gets from the West Side Market.)
"In general, it should be a really good time," says Shlach. "This year, there's the highest quality. We tried to get all the best bands that we thought stand out. We went after the upper echelon in terms of the genre, bands that are better than 95 percent of what everyone else is doing."