Great Taste, Less Lame

With Clematis Street sputtering, Ray's Downtown barely holds on as a beachhead of hip

Says Carbone: "That way, I'm walking away with $800, even on a Tuesday night." Dishing out water and soda from behind the bar, wearing a pair of old shorts and quarter-century-old 10-hole Doc Martens, he looks exactly like the aging punk rocker he is. Still, Sunday and Monday nights — which always used to be slow — are now graveyard-empty, and the adult fare at Ray's veers haphazardly from acts like George to Frank Sinatra cover acts and swing bands in an attempt to discover the right mix.

Another young concert promoter in the area, Jared Cole, has booked events at Ray's as varied as a marijuana-themed 4:20 Fest, classic-rock tribute bands, death-metal groups, hip-hop events, and DJ nights. At several shows, he concedes, both he and Carbone lost money. "But Ray won't screw anyone over, even if he only makes $50."

Carbone and his new crew have worked out a deal with Mayo for the back rent, and bills like FPL and water are being taken care of. "We have insurance for the first time in a long time," Wylie crows. "Everything's legit. If everything works out the way we have it planned, we'll have the debt paid off by the summer." Hall, who has spent a decade booking shows in South Florida, admires Carbone's mix of management savvy and hipster background. "Usually, it's one or the other," he notes. "Either they're all about the music and they don't understand the business, but he's not too far one way or the other." And Hall should know — he's had to deal with a club owner who believes that Jethro Tull is a person. He's optimistic about Ray's chances: "It's been a hard road for him, but if the city would just ease up on him, he has a good chance of coming back."

"I really don't want to leave," says Carbone. "But." Then he brightens: "If I can make it through the summer, I'm cool."

The bad news is that the Ray's dilemma may be moving into a new dimension. The endless construction that's besieged downtown for years, drawing the ire of motorists stuck in traffic and businesses losing money, is drawing a bead on Clematis Street. The next phase of roadwork is targeting the pavement outside Ray's. Work starts in the spring.

Wylie shrugs with resignation. "We have a whole other hurdle to clear now."

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