After 23 years in business, Respectable Street Café — AKA Respectable Street, Respectables, or Respecs — has grown from the dilapidated building at 518 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach to a South Florida music and culture hub. On Saturday, four stages featuring 23 bands — one for each year in business — will entertain revelers and commemorate RSC owner Rodney Mayo's short-term project (and diversion from film school) that became his mainstay.
In 1985, when Mayo honed in on the Clematis Street site for a proposed new-wave club, he was rehabbing downtown West Palm Beach buildings for his uncle's construction company. He believed the rundown former Salvation Army soup kitchen location would be short-lived. "I told myself I was going to do it for two years and get out of it," he told New Times. "Then two years turned into five and then five years turned into ten."
TheHoneyComb.com founder Steve Rullman, who now handles bookings for Propaganda in Lake Worth, used to be Mayo's right-hand man at Respectable Street and helped assemble Respectable Street's 12th through 18th anniversaries. "There is just no other place like it," Rullman says, citing the club's knack of moving with changing times while still retaining its roots. "It's a spot where artists, musicians, and all different kinds of people can have a good time."
In addition to a stream of local and national acts — Sleigh Bells, Monotonix, and Starkey among 2010's offerings — four theme nights shape Respectable Street's current programming, aligned by promoter Allan Bowron. "Proper Dosage" on Wednesdays brings out dubstep and reggae enthusiasts, "Flaunt" on Thursday evenings is an indie-fueled dance party, "Transmission Fridays" serves as a throwback to the club's early postpunk years, and Saturday's "To Hell With Poverty" events help mix the scenes coming together the rest of the week.
Avid Respectable Street partier Francean Fanny, who recently performed at Flaunt along with West Palm Beach burlesque troupe Modernesque Burlesque, says the club's energy is electric. "I love that historical feeling you get when you walk in," she says. "Rather than fading away, RSC is still quite current."
The sentiment carries for Flaunt regular Jonny Veo, lead singer for area electro punk group the Mission Veo, who adds that the club is his home away from home: "It's a place you can go without worrying about being accepted, a sanctuary for the weird." Veo's band, one that has graced Respectable Street's stage most out of the 23 bands on the anniversary party's bill, will perform Saturday with a diverse grouping of local talent, which has long been a priority for the club.
"Respectable Street has done a great job of showing a jaded South Florida audience that there are actually some gems down here worth seeing," says Jordan Asher, frontman of Boca-based blues-rockers Blond Fuzz — another band performing Saturday. "They aren't selfish or trying to suck money out of the scene; they are constantly giving back to it."
Respectable Street not only saved Palm Beach County's underground music fans from the mainstream doldrums but the punk-rock locale might just have saved the entire street of Clematis from condemnation. No kidding. Back in 1985, when Mayo took over the space, Clematis Street was a veritable ghost town.
"Burdines and Woolworth's had both gone out of business, and there were only a few designer trade stores open; downtown was on a real decline," says Mayo. Respectable Street was genuinely at the forefront from the get-go. Clematis Street is now a vibrant district, full of trinket shops, trendy eateries, Irish bars, and behemoth dance clubs.
Through the years, the venue has played host to some of the most influential acts in alternative-rock history — including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Dead Milkmen, the Meat Puppets, They Might Be Giants, and most recently goth-rock legend Peter Murphy. But of all the hundreds of shows held at the venue, which has been the wildest? That distinction would go to Los Angelino ska-punk-funk fusion band Fishbone, according to Mayo.
During its performance back in 1988, the band's lead singer, Angelo Moore, began flipping every single table and chair inside the venue. Respectable Street Café was a true-to-form café its first eight years of existence, serving lunch and dinner with a seating capacity of 150. "He destroyed the whole place before the start of the set," Mayo says. "It was a great show."
Dark-wave band Astari Nite's frontman, Mychael Ghost, also performing at the anniversary show, puts it succinctly: "A lot of pride and love is placed into any show [the Respectable Street team] puts on, and with those two elements, anything can be great."
The love carries over to the locals who frequent Respectable Street — as well as Mayo's other ventures, which include the Vagabond in Miami and Dada in Delray Beach — so Saturday's event is free. Early arrivals can experience an open bar and free pizza from 8 to 10 p.m. and a Ping-Pong ball drop loaded with hundreds of dollars in prizes.
To what does Mayo attribute the unexpected staying power of what claims to be the oldest alternative-music club in the southeastern United States? He believes there will always be an audience for good music, vowing to never play top 40 or the latest hip-hop through Respectable Street's speakers: "We stay true to the music and haven't changed with the fads."