Blind Tiger, new license in hand, cranks up the weird music again
From the spiderwebbed glass in its front door to the $2 Pabsts, Blind Tiger exudes nonchalance. The bar opened on Main Street, at Westport Road, a little more than a year ago, but you could mistake it for a much older dive. The proprietors have achieved this charm with obvious intent. The nearby Buzzard Beach or Dave’s Stagecoach maintain one or two pool tables, but Blind Tiger packs in four, plus pop-a-shot, pinball and darts. Step inside, bros, Blind Tiger seems to say.
But those mainstream trappings aside, Blind Tiger has over the past year firmly entrenched its position in the underground. Ever since it opened, it has booked the kind of music typically reserved for house gigs or other DIY spaces that spring up around the city before whatever pushy force — cops, a landlord — shuts them down.
One recent Monday night, Zach Campbell stepped away from his post behind the bar and walked out to the bar’s back deck, past a group of smokers. He might have been waiting for an act to start playing, but maybe not.
Campbell is a veteran of the local music scene — his latest band, Wet Ones, has been together for a couple of years now — and he has booked shows at Blind Tiger since it opened last July.
“We’ve been trying to have shows when we can, since the beginning,” he says. In December, the music moved to the bar’s rough-hewn, bare-bones basement, where a procession of punk and sub-genre bands could indulge maximally. Those gigs continued until April, when, a few days after a raucous Sheer Mag gig that filled the venue, city inspectors informed the bar it was hosting live music without the license required to do so.
Kenneth Kupfer, Bllind Tiger’s general manager, says management didn’t realize the application for the bar’s liquor license had to specify “live music.” The violation discovered, the bar’s gigs had to end, with Campbell scrambling to find new venues for the shows he had booked for May and June. Many landed at punk houses around the city. Some were canceled.
Meanwhile, owner Blake Lostal and his staff began asking nearby churches and businesses to sign off on a new license, one that would allow music to restart. Kupfer says no one raised a fuss. “It goes on after all those businesses close anyway,” he told me last month. And when the shows happen in the basement, you can’t hear much from outside the venue. “They didn’t seem to have a problem with that at all,” he added.
John Harbrucker, a supervisor for the city’s Regulated Industries department, says he didn’t hear of any issues, either. It’s a location that has had live music before, and the folks around there know the story, he told me. “Sometimes we hear from neighborhood organizations that were opposed,” Harbrucker said. “But we didn’t hear of any objections. They [the neighbors] realize what this is. There was nothing that reached my level where neighbors were concerned about it.”
By June 20, Blind Tiger had its new, live-music-approved liquor license, and a band called the Waspmen headlined the first show five days later.
Campbell told me the venue doesn’t want to host shows every night, but July proved to be as full a gig calendar as the place has seen. This includes a revival of “Mistake Mondays,” with the aforementioned Pabst special helping to fuel a free noise-slash-experimental show. The one I saw in July drew an intimate group, but Mondays are quiet everywhere in the city. (The next MM: Andy Human and the Reptoids and New York’s La Misma.)
Outside, on the deck, Campbell said he was happy to get on again with booking and hosting the shows — including, September 23, the bar’s first anniversary party, with Ex-Cult headlining a bill with locals Agent, Nature Boys and Wet Ones. “We’re back in business, as far as that goes.” He turned, walked past the smokers and got back to the bar, where a handful of folks drained beers and waited for the music to start.