Cincinnati Enquirer, February 19, 2012
By Lauren Bishop
Something hits you when you walk into Bogart’s, the 36-year-old music club on Short Vine in Corryville. It’s a smell, but not a smell people long have associated with Bogart’s: Stale beer, swear or, in the days before Ohio’s smoking ban, thick clouds of cigarette smoke.
It’s a clean smell. It’s the smell of… Febreze.
That’s just one of many weapons in new general manager Karen Foley’s arsenal. Her mission: To make major renovations to the long-neglected venue, be more welcoming to patrons and to at least double the number of national touring acts that play at the club, shich has hosted everyone from U2 to Prince to the White Stripes. Bogart’s operator, Live Nation, brought 42-year-old Foley to Cincinnati last September from a 5,000 -seat-venue in Phoenix and charged her with turning around the 1,500-capacity club. Live Nation, which leases the building from longtime owner Alan Porkolab, has spent more that $100,000 on renovations so far and could spend twice that by the time they’re done, Foley said.
“It was a jewel, and we weren’t polishing it,” she said. “It’s an iconic building. It was time to change.”
The changes reflect an increased emphasis Live Nation is putting on the approximately two dozen small clubs and theaters it operates nationally, which make up about a quarter of all its venues, said Michael Grozier, Live Nation’s executive vice president of clubs and theaters.
“We realized Bogart’s was a local institution, and it was time for us to honor the history and really get Bogart’s back to being the legendary rock club that it was,” Grozier said.
Foley’s assortment of scented air fresheners is the least of the improvements at Borgart’s. Like a proud new homeowner, she excitedly pointed out improvements to a visitor before a concert on a recent Friday night.
The interior has been scrubbed clean and repainted. Gone is the baby blue and purple color scheme, replaced with a bold red. The original parquet floors have been resurfaced. There’s a new VIP area in the balcony, which has new tables and chairs and is also accessible to music fans with disabilities. A blue lighted Bogart’s sign in a script font, which originally hung on the outside was found in the basement, repaired and hung inside. Four interior bars will be remodeled next, and Live Nation also plans to create an enclosed outdoor smoking and drinking area.
But one of the most remarkable improvements is the bathrooms, which patrons had widely panned on website like Yelp.com before the renovations. More disgusting that a gas station, said one. Like something out of a horror movie, said another. Even Foley herself said she was horrified when she saw them.
Now, they’ve been completely remodeled with all new toilets and water-conserving urinals, new stalls, recessed lighting and sinks that look more like something out of Architectural Digest. There are no bowl sinks, but rather a single long, sloped, concrete shelf that allows water to flow backward out of the low-pressure faucets into a horizontal drain.
“We’re happy that they’re adapting to today’s world now,” said Safi W. Safi, vice president of the Corryville Community Council and a property owner in the neighborhood. “And we’re happy that they’re putting money into the property.”
For fans, the changes are a pleasant surprise, Ian Monk of Northside, 29, went to see Anthrax and Testament earlier this month, his first time at the club since 2008. At that show, he said, his friend’s pens were confiscated from his bag, the bartenders were rude, the beer selection was poor, the drinks were overpriced, the bathrooms were disgusting and the sound was just passable.
But at the Anthrax show, which he attended with the same friend, the dorr and bar lines moved quickly, the bartenders were friendly and quick, the beer prices were reasonable ($5 for a 20-ounce Yuengling draft), he said. And he saw definite improvements in the bathroom facilities. “They were swanky, like something I’d expect to see in a restaurant in the Kenwood mall,”he said. “ and the sound was noticabley better from what I could tell- though that was hard to judge at a thrashy metal show. I was really impressed overall and will be looking for more shows there in the future.”
As proud as she is of those changes, Foley said the biggest improvement is in Bogart’s own employees.
“(Bogart’s) didn’t reflect the way that I had always been taught to treat guests, so I kind of re-taught the staff what’s important,” she said. “(Most) jumped on board, and the ones that din’t are no longer with us. The ones that are couldn’t be prouder…They have a new hope and a new commitment ot the community.”
Wearing a new T-shirt with the resurrected Bogart’s logo, employee Dave Cobb- who’s a member of the club’s operations, bar, and security staffs- agreed.
“We’ve been trying for a long time,” he said. “Now that we’re getting a chance to make improvement, we going to.”
Building owner Alan Porkolab also said the improvements were long overdue. He bought the business, formerly a nightclub called Inner Circle, in 1974, reopened it as Bogart’s in 1975 and operated it himself until 1997.
The Bogart’s name was a tribute to one of Porkolab’s favorite actors, Humphrey Bogart (he wanted to call it Bogart’s Cafe Americain after Rick’s Cafe Americain in the classic Bogart film “Casablanca,” but friend talked him out of it). The last significant remodeling took place in 1982, whtn the club expanded for a capacity of 450 to 1500.
“Karen (Foley) pays such attention to detail and exemplifies with I always subscribe to, and that is making the patrons feel at home and treating everyone with respect,” he said. “She’s done a remarkable job in a short period of time. Live Nation is fortunate to get someone of her experience and expertise. This is not someone who’d leaning on the job. This is someone who has sophisticated knowledge of the industry, how it works, and what needs to be done to make it right. I’m very excited about her coming on board and the changes she’s made.”
And Bogart’s staff hope te improvements will spread behond Bogart’s to the rest of Short Vine which has its share of vacant and dilapidated buildings but is on the cusp of a renaissance. Employees sweep the sidewalk daily, and the repainted over the graffiti on the front doors until it stopped. Other business owners have taken notice, they say.
“If you start cleaning up the sidewalk in front of the building,” Cobb said, “everyone else does too.”