If South Florida were like other major metropolitan areas around the country, we who live here would enjoy our live music in a renovated old movie house with velvet curtains, cushy seats, an in-house sound board, and so on. But alas, we're not, and we don't. So, spoiled nonnatives (yes, that includes Bandwidth) arrive in SoFla with a hankering for real-time rock only to discover most live-music venues inhabiting strip malls. But reality it is, and in time one recognizes that the Metal Factory, the Culture Room, and FU*BAR were better than nothing. (Well, maybe not the Metal Factory....)
FU*BAR, in particular, carved out a dingy, dark, dank, and creepy niche for itself. This hole in the wall east of I-95 on Cypress Creek Road managed to attract down Fort Lauderdale way the most interesting national acts too small to play bigger rooms like the Chili Pepper. The list includes groups like Voodoo Glow Skulls, the Get Up Kids, Steve Vai, Southern Culture on the Skids, the Dropkick Murphys, Alejandro Escovedo, John Paul Jones, and Agnostic Front.
It was also home to a nonstop parade of local acts doing some serious teeth-cutting, including whippersnappers the Rocking Horse Winner, pyrotechnic popsters Ed Matus' Struggle, punk favorites New Found Glory (with hundreds of teenage fans singing every word of every song), and Latin/rap/metal big-label signee Nonpoint, whose shows at FU*BAR helped snag the attention of MCA reps.
"The shows like that are never going to happen again," sighs FU*BAR manager John Spran. Earlier this summer the club shut down during a botched attempt to transfer ownership. Dormant since a June 29 show with commie punks Boy Sets Fire, even if FU*BAR reopens, its days as an all-ages venue are over for good -- thanks to fiscal reality in the current antikiddie climate, Spran says. There is a chance, albeit a small one, that the club may return as an of-agersonly destination, though it doesn't seem a high priority for anyone involved.
"We'd have hundreds of kids out front with green hair," Spran gripes, "and it chased the adults away. And [the kids] don't spend any money. They ruined the club, really."
True. Numerous visits to the bar last spring showed how tenuous FU*BAR's financial situation was: The bar would be open, but only a handful of the venue's patrons would be wristbanded and therefore buying alcohol.
"We'd have 300 people in there and sell under a 12-pack of beer," Spran complains. "Some nights, maybe two people would be drinking. Once, we had 500 kids in there and we rang less than $100" in liquor sales. Thus Spran is happy to be out of the business of not making money. "I'm not messing with it anymore," he says. "From a business perspective, it was just a waste of time. And with the kids, it was a baby-sitting job."
Grant Hall, a Fort Lauderdalebased promoter who booked most of the shows at the space during its two years of existence, says, " FU*BAR was a great room. For a low-ceilinged room, it had some of the best sightlines. The thing about it that was great was it took on the vibe of whatever talent was in there. The room didn't dictate -- you could do any kind of band in there, and it worked."
Of course, on most nights attendance fell far short of the 450 bodies that could comfortably fill the space. Toward the end FU*BAR was caught in this no-win conundrum: A full house for Millencolin or a similar ska-punk act amounted to no liquor sales, while shows catering to adults were generally sparsely populated. Sometimes this was the result of inept promotion, as was the case with a mid-March show with exLed Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones (not, Hall is quick to note, one of his shows). Barely mentioned in the press and virtually unadvertised, the show drew a paltry 250 folks -- pretty sad considering the hundreds of longhaired Zep fanatics with disposable incomes watching That '70s Show in their Davie basements that night. Sometimes Hall would get lucky, as he did when Chicago indie instrumental trio Trans Am showed up and drew fans from out of the woodwork up and down the coast, doing much better than expected.
But there was always something unstable about FU*BAR, and as Hall tells it, it started with the location. "The other tenants made life very hard," he explains. "We couldn't make any noise there until 8:30 p.m. They didn't want [FU*BAR] there. But [those shops had] been there for 13 years, and the landlord was going to pay more attention to them than he was going to pay to the fine charming characters at FU*BAR."
Hall is referring to the owners of the club, who didn't care one way or the other about what took place prior to 11 p.m., when the club started charging dance-floor denizens $10 a head. A case in point was a late-May appearance by Alejandro Escovedo, which drew fewer than 100 souls, despite a flurry of good press. Original Latin punk Escovedo -- brother of Pete, cousin of Sheila E. -- put on an incredible show in support of his Bourbonitis Blues album, leading the crowd through a sing-along of "All the Young Dudes" and dragging his entire band down on the floor to complete a final cello-bolstered ballad during which Escovedo made eye contact with everyone in the place and also (with a round of tequila shots) fell off the wagon he'd publicly boarded a few months before.
However, according to Spran, the thrill those few patrons felt that night failed to boost the bar's reputation as a concert destination. "If some new customer comes by just to check out the club," he says, "and it's $8 to get in, and it's some Alejandro guy playing they've never heard of, they're going to say, "Fuck that.'"
Hall, who promoted the show, admits that he staged concerts like Escovedo despite the unlikelihood of doing more than breaking even. "It could be argued that I made a huge mistake putting Alejandro at FU*BAR," he says now. "Maybe I should have put him at some older venue like the Poor House. Maybe I did put it in the wrong place. I did the best I could, and it just yielded flat results except for the actual performance. But at least it happened."
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Somewhere, both Hall and Spran agree, there's a lesson to be learned from the brief life of FU*BAR. Spran hints that the club's eclectic nature may have contributed to its downfall.
"If you have a wide variety of national acts, different genres of music, then you're not building a regular crowd," he explains. "It's not consistent."
Hall acknowledges that life ain't gettin' any easier for small-time promoters in the region.
"When you live at the end of a peninsula and bands have to go out of their way to get down here, it makes the live-music scene a real fragile beast," he says. "It really helps to have venue continuity. You hit a bit of a stride, and you get into a rhythm, and then it breaks. And it doesn't help when the powers that be -- city government -- make it that much harder to pull it off."