was the elbow room really all that bad?

The “Ann Arbor News” has a feature today on Ypsi’s infamous Elbow Room, which is now under new management. The article essentially says that it’s now safe for University of Michigan students to come out and have a beer there. As someone who’s done his fair share of drinking at the old Elbow Room, I found it a bit offensive. (I’m curious to hear what Leighton thinks of the article, as he was a fixture there for a number of years, booking the bands and running the board.) Sure, there was some grime around the edges of the old place, but was it really all that bad? Yeah, the regulars who sat at the bar and drank all day were a bit depressing, but I never got the sense that they were a threat… at least not intentionally. (Sometimes they would fall off of their stools.)

Leighton did have this one story, but I’m sure it wasn’t true. If it was, then maybe the “Ann Arbor News” is justified in their retroactive condemnation, but I can’t see how it could be… He said that he walked into the men’s room one night and saw a man scooping vomit out of the sink in his hand and shoveling it into his mouth… As an afterthought, I seem to recall him adding, “And I’m not sure it was his.”

I wish the new owners all the luck in the world and I hope the Elbow Room stays a vibrant venue for live music (there aren’t many places for live, non-corporate music these days), but I wish they would stop framing the story in terms of how bad the old place was. If anything, I think they should be drawing on the colorful history of the place, not poking fun of it.

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  1. mark
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Here’s a clip from the article:

    …Other changes are happening too. The bar, which has recently been sold to new owner Andy Garris (lead supervisor of inebriating beverage administration and bill payer), is opening later in the day, eliminating the shot-and-a-beer daytime crowd that may have previously given the Elbow Room the aura of a Skid Row dive…

    I wonder where all the regulars will go now? Will the Tap Room take refugees?

  2. leighton
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I’m on my way to NYC, so I can’t comment long.

    Put it this way, your future chances of seeing real touring bands are almost zero at the ER… bands like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Of Montreal, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Captured! by Robots (after this April’s show) have expressed a loss of interest recently.

    I’m off to the Cake Shop to see NYC’s hottest band, Awesome Color (Ypsi).

  3. mark
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Hopefully management is able to do somethig about that. Those were some of the best shows ever. (At least CBR and SMG, which I’ve seen there.)

  4. dorothy
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    euuuuh!!!oh god i wish i hadn’t read this. i think my eyes are beeding. ack!!!

  5. ol' e cross
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    For the record, it was mine.

    My momma taught me that if you make a mess, you clean it up.

  6. will
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t want to sound too defensive or anything, Mark, but where exactly does the story (yeah, my story) condemn the old Elbow Room? It quotes the new owner about his vision for his club. The last thing I wanted to do was paint the old version of the ER as dangerous or anything of the sort. Hell, my band played there more times than I can count and we hosted the tribute nights for a year. I LOVED the old Elbow Room. And I sincerely apologize to Leighton et al if this story suggests otherwise. But I don’t think it does. Surely calling it a dive can’t be considered a condemnation. CBGBs was a dive, right? Does that make it bad?

  7. t.d. glass
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    The article wasn’t bad, and it didn’t dishonor the Elbow Room in my opinion. There is, however, a sense among some in town that the new team running the place aren’t really appreciative of the history. I still plan to give the new place a shot though.

  8. leighton
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I agree that the article itself didn’t seem very condescending to the ER. Some of the info did disturb, but that has nothing to do with the reporting…

  9. trusty getto
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a regular (been there, though, several times), but having shacked up in the cities of Detroit (Ferry Street), NYC (Hell’s Kitchen), LA (during the riots) and Denver (before it’s gentrification), I’m having trouble seeing the ER as dangerous.

    Pls correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t State Rep candidate Alma Wheeler Smith (now State Rep) hold a political fundraiser there a couple of years ago?

  10. brian r
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Getto, you are mistaken. Ms. Smith never had a fundraiser there, but I do remember her showing up to jam at a Steve Earle tribute night.

  11. leighton
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    There have been fundraisers there, not sure it was heres though…

    The ER’s history is a slow arc of safety. It used to be a serious biker bar where pool night guaranteed at least one undercover Fed sporting all the right tattoos. Later, you had to worry about the people on stage (Wolf Eyes Orange Goblin) more than the people playing pool.
    Now, well… you might have to worry about the guys on stage making a pass at you later in the mens room or trying to turn you to Jesus (possibly at the same time), but that might be a good thing to bring in the Ann Arbour crowd.

    Also, a LOT of the good things mentioned in the article happening to the Room happened WAY before the place was even on the market -most happened before the quoted even worked at the place.

    And don’t ask me what musicians from Detroit think about the place lately.

  12. edweird
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Leighton: Dude I have to say it. I’ve been in the Ypsi/Arbor area since 1989 which is almost as long as I’ve been going to shows. You sir, brought some of the finest entertainment to this area since Roland and Jim stopped running the Heidleburg shows back in the early 90’s. You’re focus was on the music, not just alcohol sales (*cough Blind cough Pig*) and you brought some bands no one else would touch, to a place I could get to and from without having to drive all night.
    Thank you.
    Now on to my feelings about the new management: have you tried to use their website? WTF!?! They couldn’t just take over the old site and update it? As for how their schedule and booking goes we’ll see. I think the “donation” thing is stupid. Having run the door at The Olde Miami a few times, I know how hard a job it is to squeeze people for a $5 cover, but if you make it optional, the bands will likely make nothing. Not to mention that no touring act is going to play there without a guarantee.

  13. Mike
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, some friends’ band that has played there half a dozen times or so reported that they had the largest turnout, and made the most money, after the donation system went into effect.

  14. leighton
    Posted February 3, 2007 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Things could be much worse with ownership change. At least we’re not like NY Park Slopers ‘plaining about a bar getting black or Midwestern:


  15. rnolan
    Posted February 3, 2007 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    In what way was the story negative? I don’t see it.

  16. mark
    Posted February 3, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Will, I didn’t dislike the article. I thought that it was good. And I appreciate whenever an Ypsi business gets press in the “News.” Sorry you took it otherwise. I didn’t mean it as such. I was just commenting on the fact that the way this thing is being framed, at least in the community, and I think it came up in your article, is “old Elbow Room bad, new Elbow room good.” And, I think that trivializes the work that Leighton and others have done in the past.

  17. mark
    Posted February 3, 2007 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    And thanks for taking the time to register and leave a comment here, Will. I appreciate it. (The same goes for the rest of you too.)

  18. idmta
    Posted February 5, 2007 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I worked the board at the ER for a bit when I first moved here. (I mean this in a very neutral way, but it felt like Howard Roark-style quarry work. I liked it okay.)

    I’ve seen this kind of thing happen in places I’ve lived in the past (I remember seeing Rick Rubin at a seedy Las Ve(g)[**]as gay bar while some guys wearing make-up called The Killers were playing second-rate New Wave). Right now, Ypsilanti is a really great place to be and has been since I moved here (last June). It’s cheap, there isn’t much to gain and there isn’t much to lose, so people are friendly, self-motivated, and doing things like having house-shows and random collaborations and what-not simply Because They Can. But… I’m not going to sugarcoat it: The Elbow Room was the the first indicator that this place may very well be the next Hamtramck/Silverlake (Los Angeles, CA). It starts w/a sense of community and once it enters the realm of greed and attention-whoring (2 things that were running rampant at the ER while I was there), sense of community starts to dwindle, people get competitive, rent goes up, and it all gets ruined.

    Case in point: Right before Leighton left, I booked a show through him for a band fronted by a local 19 year old kid, solely because he (the 19 year old) is a good kid and I wish someone would have helped me out when I was his age (musicians are a notoriously nasty, greedy bunch). I wouldn’t even bother now. It’s not what they’re doing w/it (the ER), it’s the mentality behind it.

    What’s happening at the ER is so stereotypical it’s almost not worth pointing out. I’ve seen it happen in several other places I’ve lived and… I don’t know, it’s sad, because I like it here. People get greedy, start fighting over a reward that just isn’t there, and things get Lame. (The only reward I’ve ever seen anyone get from living somewhere that things are “Going On” is the fact that there are things-to-do and a sense of community that facilitates said things-to-do.) The day this place turns into Hamtramck (more power to it), I’m going to pack up my studio and move to River Rouge.

    I also thought I was going to move to Beirut (Israel took care of that) and moved here instead. LAWNET and laser snipers are doing a fine job of making me feel like I didn’t miss anything..

  19. Macdonnell
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    The old Elbow is about to reopen.

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