Stompin’ at the Savoy

savoy2I was just reading, about a week ago, that Ypsilanti’s Club Divine, was one of the area’s most successful bars, at least based upon wholesale liquor purchases. The local dance club was number six on the list, with $134,079 in ’09 liquor purchases, based on data released by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. The thing that caught my interest, however, was the fact that the five bars ahead of them were all growing at 3% to 7% annually, based on a comparison with ’08 data, while Club Divine’s purchases had fallen -19.2%.

So, when I heard just now that they were changing direction and relaunching as a live music venue I wasn’t terribly surprised. Live music, I’m guessing, pulls an older audience with more money with which to buy liquor. And, with no big venues in Washtenaw County, it seems like there might be a significant opportunity to be had. (The Club Heiderberg, from what I understand, recently announced their intention of becoming a full-time poker venue, leaving few real venues locally outside of Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig and Ypsi’s Elbow Room.) Now, I guess, the question is whether or not they can actually book bands that a hell of a lot of people want to see. It’s not an easy task even in an average-sized club, but, according to this letter that I just received, they’re claiming to have a capacity of 700, which is probably close to triple that of the Blind Pig:

Sorry about the email blast… but I want to make sure you are aware of the opening of a brand new 700-seat concert hall in Ypsilanti – introducing SAVOY!

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the downfall of several local clubs, tonight is the gala opening of this great new venue. Packed with brand new lights and sound, this music theater will be a new stop for touring bands, and a great showcase for our prodigious local talent. Finally! Ypsilanti-AnnArbor-Detroit-Flint and all who have contributed to our unique musical community — REPRESENT!! This is a milestone, a new beginning.

If you value music, you must value community also.
There is no music without community.
We are nothing without a place to perform.
Come out and show your colors,
to the V I B E !!

So, what do you think? Is Dave Curtis, the owner, likely to pull it off?

Oh, and here’s an interesting historical note… Linette’s great grandfather operated a Chinese restaurant in Harlem in the 1920’s, near the real Savoy Ballroom, where he probably served the likes of Chick Webb and Count Basie.

[This post was brought to you by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.]

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  1. Gretchen
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    I want for this to be a successful endeavor, but, having eaten at Mr. Curtis’s Mongolian BBQ, I have my doubts.

  2. Hot Knuckle Lover
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Come out and show your colors? Is that intentionally ironic?

    Club Divine was famously against the showing of colors.

  3. Jiggs
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    I stopped in to see some friends play tonight. There is a mandatory coat check and it costs $1.25. When I was told this by the rude doorman I didn’t go in, I just walked out. That’s just stupid. There’s no mandatory coat check fee at any other places downtown!

  4. Kevin Phillips
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I think he’ll find running a live music club considerably harder than selling booze to horny college kids and blasting Lady Gaga songs.

  5. clear vision
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    If anyone can pull this off, Dave Curis can. It is hard to make money with live music. I have watched Daves ventures through the years and if there is anything he knows, it is how to run a club style venue. Ypsi needs this, downtown needs this and so do I.

  6. Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    If he has a coat check that is mandatory then he really doesn’t understand how to run a live venue. See Jiggs’ comment.

    That said, I’d like to see it work, but if they don’t have someone who understands what’s in involved in being a venue then it will likely fail. The booking agent is key here. Balancing local acts and regional, national, and international acts while making sure you know what will draw (ie understand the audience) is a tough job and one that is rarely done well. I’ve seen it done well on three occasions in this county. The Heidleberg back in the late 80’s early 90’s. The Green Room for a small window of time. And The Elbow Room up until about three years ago.

  7. Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    “Formally Club Divine”? You can’t even take 2 minutes to have someone proof-read material for your big grand opening/kickoff?

  8. Alister Allbottom
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Dave Curtis is the former manager of Club DeJa Vu, our downtown all-nude bar. I’m not sure if he still has any financial interest in the strip club, but I think it’s worth noting, as most of Dave’s enterprises have been relatively easy formulas to execute.

    – Charge men money to see naked women.
    – Charge men money to dance with clothed women and sell them drinks.
    – Put up a ton of TV screens and charge men to drink and eat wings.

    (Dave also owns a number of Buffalo Wind Wings franchises.)

    When he’s veered from these easy models, as with J. Neil’s Mongolian Grille, the results have been terrible. To run a restaurant you need to be passionate about food, and to run a live music venue, you have to be passionate about music. It’s not as easy as parading pussy in front of drunk frat boys and selling shots.

  9. Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t doubt that there’s a market for a big venue west of St. Andrews, or wherever it is now that the big shows are taking place now in Detroit. It’s just that I think a lot of it comes down to who you have doing the booking. Good people in the field, with ties to managers and promoters, are pretty rare, especially in this part of the country. You want someone with a good network, and an eye for talent, who can see which bands are going to amount to something, and nurture them along. Hopefully, Dave’s got someone like that on the payroll.

    I’ve been searching around, and I can’t seem to find a schedule of upcoming events. If anyone out there knows what they’ve got coming up, let me know.

    Sadly, when you google Savoy + Ypsilanti this is the first page that comes up.

  10. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    For starters, last night was a “soft opening”. They don’t plan on being open for a month. They have built a stage that is at least 1/3 larger than the Pigs, and they have begun to install new lighting and a new PA system. They have repainted and added art. The room looks good, and when the PA is finished (the new subs had not arrived last night) it will sound fantastic. There were some huge errors last night, the promotion and the overbearing door staff/coat check being first among them. To be sure, they have a lot of work to do to turn Divine into the type of live music venue that they are envisioning, but they are on the right track. They might be a little slow on the uptake, but overall, if they can straighten out the mistakes and book the right bands, there is a real opportunity for Ypsi to have the entertainment district that everyone is talking about. I can also tell you, if I were a mid sized national act that wanted to play the A2 area, the Savoy looks a hell of a lot more inviting that the Pig to both my band and audience. Bigger stage, better lights, equal sound system, WAY better room, better (bigger) bar with more servers. In other words, an actual concert venue that isn’t tiny, crowded and ungodly hot, and doesn’t require you to fork over a $20 “membership fee” to buy a beer.

    So, my thought is, instead of taking the traditional Ypsi stance of “oh, this is Ypsi, that will fail” why don’t we, at least, wait and see. You might even go to a show, and like my friend who was stopped at the door for not meeting “dress code”, talk to Dave or the folks helping him about what they are doing wrong and get it changed. Because like Mark, I would like to be able to see a major act a couple block from where I live.

  11. kjc
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    mandatory coat check and a dress code? that’s just weird. i’m glad to support a live music venue in ypsi, but if these are the ideas that Dave needs to be told to change, i’m confused. what kind of club does he want it to be?

  12. Normal Dave
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Dave made his money selling tail at the Vu and parlayed it into a dance club for young adults. It’s basically the same thing. He’s selling the remote possibility of sex. And that, as we’ve learned, doesn’t translate to tasty barbeque.

  13. roots
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Andy. Give it a chance!

    (Sounds a helluva lot better than Divine.)

  14. Posted March 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I was just met up with a friend who is in the process of finding a new job. He’d seen a listing on Craigslist for this new club, but he didn’t think he much of a shot at it as he wasn’t all-caps sexy. Here’s the ad:

    A brand new live venue in Downtown Ypsilanti is looking for fun, SEXY bar staff. Must be very outgoing, friendly and willing to work hard. Experience preferred but not necessary. Please apply IN PERSON at 13 N. Washington St. Ypsilanti

    Compensation: Hourly Wage plus Tips
    Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
    Please, no phone calls about this job!
    Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
    PostingID: 1635850168

    And, for what it’s worth, I agree that it would be awesome if this works out.

    I do think, however, that, if it’s going to work, good music is going to have to come before SEXY staff.

  15. Don Sicheneder
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    So, I find myself back on MM after a hiatus. For those of you that came out last night, thanks! It was a phenomenal dry run with excellent music. There are clearly kinks that need to be worked out. Just as Ypsilanti continues to fight back stereotypes and being overshadowed by AA, transitioning a club to a venue is no easy task and it takes time.

    In defense of the bouncers and staff, there were some things that they simply didnt know about. As you could see, the sign still says divine and the mentality needs to change from that to Savoy for not only the staff, but for the community as well. Dress code will not be in effect…FYI

    The format will be different. Many Venues have a dj after the show. The idea is to have music go from 9pm to 12am, and then a DJ afterwards, hopefully allowing people in to catch the last few songs of a band will expose them to new music and add to increased attendance. At the same time, it will be an earlier evening for those who want to see great music but dont want to be up until 2 am doing it.

    The email cited in this post and the poster were both done by one of the bands to send to friends. Not a big marketing attempt for a grand opening. (easy folks)

    Andy, thanks for the support. Instead of taking the wait and see approach, I would say that if it is something that someone wants in Ypsi, go out and support! Like you said, plenty of things to learn from and change…but it will take a little time.

    There are reasons why I wanted to help make this happen. Many of which are the same that made me want to create The Jamboree with Erik Dotzauer and the CDC and make it a success, or by starting Underground Roots at Keystone Underground on Fridays. This area is full of amazing bands and talent. I feel we have a unique situation with 2 colleges and countless talented bands. My plan is to move towards booking national talent and bring in great local bands to open.

    That being said, I am always up for ideas, so if someone had a mid market band that they would like to see, I am interested in hearing them.

    I look at venue options in Washtenaw. I see the Blind Pig (have you been there? ) (400 Capacity btw) Circus, Pjs and Gracies. Two great venues Ann Arbor has are The Ark and Michigan Theatre. The Ark is sit down along with The Michigan Theatre. The Michigan is huge and very expensive to play. Savoy fills a crucial role in the community and it will be a success given time.

    Schedule posting, web and marketing will be done over the next 2 weeks or so. Keep in touch, keep your friends close and keep supporting live music.

    And one more thing….I like mogolian. It tastes good!


  16. Posted March 14, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Don. When you get the website up, be sure to let us know. Depending on the bands, I may be there pretty often… Best of luck.

  17. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    Here is a video that I shot at the Savoy on Saturday during the October Babies set. I’m stading about 12 feet from the stage, and you can kind of get an idea of what it looks like in there….

  18. Karl
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I’ve been to the Blind Pig when it’s absolutely jam packed and there’s no way it was 400 people.

  19. Leslie from A2
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    The October Babies posted opening night Savoy video on their blog:

  20. Edward
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    If you thought the mandatory coat check was bad, try taking a dump. Toilet paper is $.20 a sheet, and there’s a $2 minimum.

  21. Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    As of right now, Club Divine is still being advertised on the Eastern Echo website, and the Club Divine website still portrays it as an ongoing business. (Aside: dress code says that “[c]ollard shirts” are preferred. Can’t we just let food be food?!)

  22. Elf
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you should be able to play the “typical Ypsi” card when people complain when in fact it’s the owners who are conducting themselves in a “typical Ypsi” fashion. Soft or not, this was a boneheaded opening, poorly planned, and poorly executed. “Typical Ypsi”.

  23. Kim
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    It’s really sad to see so many people get down on something we are working so hard at! Club Divine needed a change and I think Savoy and a live music venue is a great way to go. It’s going to take some time to work out all the bugs, this is new for all of us, including my security staff. We are in a customer service industry and I welcome all comments, questions or concerns but it’s ridiculous to think that everything will be perfect on the night of the first show!! Savoy is going to be great for Ypsi and I’m just glad I can say I was there from the beginning. Thank-you Don and Andy for all your support.

  24. Kim
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    FWIW, this Kim is not the me Kim.

  25. Mike
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to some good shows here. I miss the Speakeasy. They had some good bands from time to time. And, as a club, this place has been pretty bad for a couple years now. I remember back in the day, when they played good music at the club and had house techno upstairs. For the past couple years, all they play is ghetto booty music, and there’s nothing but fat chicks there. Who wants to see that?

    Good luck with the new format. Like I said, I think this will fill a void left when the Speakeasy closed up. And, FWIW, I have no complaints about the Mongolian Grill. The ambiance leaves a little to be desired (fast food type tables), but my guess is that came about with the economic downturn and they had to open up with less resources.

  26. kjc
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    “For the past couple years, all they play is ghetto booty music, and there’s nothing but fat chicks there. Who wants to see that?”

    Among the possibilities for human interaction I’d like to avoid, assholes beat out fat chicks.

  27. McLowtide
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of fat chicks, have you all heard about Donna Simpson, the New Jersey woman that wants to be 1,000 pounds?,2933,589377,00.html

  28. Posted March 23, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi Everyone,

    Just a heads up, here is the Savoy website for information on upcoming shows.

    Cheers! Hope to see you all down there. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe this month! Also, Back 40 and Deep Space Six on Friday.


  29. Judy
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Gee I wonder why no one wants to open a business in Ypsi. The community seems SO welcoming!
    I am hoping that this is just the wonderful world of anonymity talking and not the standard thinking for this town.
    I didn’t know that if a person worked at an establishment that had a particularly unsavory lean (for you) that same person was forever condemned in any other endeavor they try.
    There’s little holding downtown together right now except for Dave’s places, Beezy’s place and a handful of others.
    I support my downtown and the people who are trying to keep it alive.
    More power to them.
    I read the posts here and wonder why anyone would want to invest in downtown Ypsi. Sad really.

  30. MCS
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    The line-up looks pretty good so far. I’m very excited about Karl Denson…love him!

  31. Sway
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    The Savoy is credited as one of the last remaining bastions of style, elegance, and tradition.

  32. Local Music Lover
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    So, the Savoy officially dead yet?

  33. Edward
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    The last show that I heard of that was scheduled for the Savoy had to be moved to the Dreamland. The excuse was that they’d “blown a transformer” or something like that. Since then, I haven’t seen much activity. The sign over their back door still says Club Divine.

  34. dave
    Posted June 15, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I heard they replaced the people booking shows with a professional booking agent. Hopefully the quality will improve.

  35. Stalwort
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Some ass kissing for Mr. Garris and the Savoy in today’s non-paper.

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