Grog Shop turns 18
The annals of Cleveland music are littered with the remains of defunct clubs, DIY spaces and even big concert halls, so it’s encouraging to see that Coventry Village fixture the Grog Shop has clung to life so tenaciously for nearly two decades.
From humble beginnings in a tiny former saloon on Coventry Road, to its current digs on Euclid Heights Boulevard, the Grog has survived by consistently providing Cleveland’s music fans with a space in which to see top-shelf touring acts and enjoy a worthy beer selection.
The last weekend in September, the Grog Shop will celebrate 18 years of business with performances from legendary artists. Among them are the Talking Heads spinoff band the Tom Tom Club (whose utterly elemental groove from their hit, “Genius of Love,” has been sampled by so many other artists that you’ve heard it, even if you don’t know you’ve heard it), the massively influential indie rock band, Built To Spill, and a wonderful electronic band whose name is, alas, unprintable.
“I’ve tried to consistently treat the bands right and act professionally,” owner Kathy Blackman said. “I really think that it goes a long way. It is the reason bands and agents keep coming back.”
When the bands keep coming back, the audiences naturally follow.
Blackman opened the club in 1992, with partners Matt Mugridge and Sean Heineman, both coworkers of hers at University Circle’s late, lamented restaurant and jazz venue, Club Isabella.
“The Grog Shop had been the Saloon for years and reopened as the Jazz Saloon for a short time before we found it. It did no business to speak of, but we thought we could make something work there. It was a very low initial investment,” noted Blackman, adding, “We did a management agreement for a year to see how it ended up and then paid it off for the next few years.”
During those years, she also bought out her partners, as they began moving on to other ventures in Cleveland Heights’s nighttime scene. (Heineman currently owns McNulty’s pub, another Coventry Village mainstay.)
Although the indie music scene was growing in popularity at the time, in the wake of Nirvana's success, the Grog Shop faced stiff competition. Clubs like Peabody’s (in the Flats), the Phantasy Complex (on the West Side) and independent promoters like Larry Collins (owner of City Buddha) had a lock on the touring business, and the then popular Euclid Tavern was the scene’s darling upstart. Apparently, two upstarts were one too many.
“Initially I had a very hard time breaking into the booking-agent scene,” Blackman said. “People were very loyal and didn’t really take my calls or take me seriously. Eventually I wore them down and proved myself. Reputation and honorability go a long way.”
Once the club finally secured its place on the touring circuit, soon after celebrating its 10th anniversary, it lost its lease. The City of Cleveland Heights, however, rallied around the venue and helped it find a new home nearby, keeping it in Coventry Village, in the space vacated when Arabica moved out a few years earlier.
With the new space came a large, literally underground venue, and the former Café D’Oro (if you were ever there, there’s no way you could forget those wood-fired pizzas) was transformed into the B-Side Liquor Lounge, a dance-music counterpart to the Grog Shop upstairs. Run by club DJ Brad Petty, who showcases cutting edge electronic music just as the Grog highlights forward-thinking rock and pop, the B-Side has tapped into a previously underserved demographic for Coventry Village, and has proven itself a hip lounge alternative to the strip’s numerous sports bars.
That long-ago “very low initial investment” has provided a career for Blackman, who now divides her time between the club and her children, Ruby, 5, and Indiana, 3 1/2.
“With each anniversary I am shocked that I am still doing this. I guess what started as a far-fetched idea that I thought would last a year or two has developed into a full-blown career. Every time I consider moving on, I can’t imagine what I would do with my life.”
Given that her humble little club served as a launching pad for future superstars like the Flaming Lips, Kid Rock, Oasis, Matchbox 20, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes and Fall Out Boy, we certainly hope she doesn’t move on.
Nancy Phanstihl is a longtime patron and fan of the Grog Shop.
2785 Euclid Hts Blvd., Suite A
Cleveland Hts. Ohio 44106
(216) 321 5588
(216) 321 8900