by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen former Bravo Entertainment President Paul Thornton gave me reasons for wanting Rock Coffee out of his building last year (while also denying that he had the power or any hand in getting them kicked out), he said the scene kids constantly piling in and out of the small caf & eacute; club were drinking, fighting and generally scaring off his patrons. "It's been really hurting our business," Thornton said in August 2006.
The spuriousness of this argument (I'd never seen an emo kid in a brawl, and neither had the Spokane Police Department) burned certain notions about the club into the minds of most local fans: 1) The Big Easy didn't know or understand our scene, and 2) it saw concertgoers as revenue streams and nothing more. In his defense, Thornton played victim. "The only way we can sustain a business as big as we do there is to have very diverse crowds each week," he said.
Morgan Margolis, vice president of West Coast operations for the Knitting Factory -- which recently acquired Bravo -- couldn't agree more with that last sentiment. Included in his definition of "very diverse," though, are the punks, the anarchists and the emo twerps Thornton wanted to be rid of. While Margolis sympathizes with a club owner not wanting tons of rowdy patrons drinking and swearing and punching each other in front of the venue, he understands that's the game. "A lot of nights you see a hardcore show and you say, 'That crowd's rough -- I don't want to deal with that,'" he says, "But that's our core audience."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & itting in the empty Bourbon Street restaurant -- which smells faintly of piss -- Margolis is ill at ease. "This room is sterile," he says, motioning to the guitars mounted on the walls, "it's like we're the House of Blues." If there's anything the Knitting Factory doesn't want to be, it's the House of Blues. House of Blues is corporate.
It's apathetic. Margolis hates that.
But that's exactly what he found when he arrived. "The first few times I came up, I came to observe," he says, motioning to his unassuming (though very L.A.) rock ensemble of boot-cut jeans, faded black T-shirt and army green hoodie. "In both Boise and Spokane, the reputation was that the Big Easy was ambivalent about the scene."
The solution, in his mind, wasn't to get rid of the staff, but to get rid of the rules. He axed the club night curfews that so angered bands like Built To Spill, giving club managers permission to hold the club-goers in Bourbon Street until the music was over. "It's a hard thing, juggling art and commerce," Margolis says, but the solution is always the same: "Be flexible."
That includes focusing on service to customers and bands, getting security to chill on the thuggishness, allowing other clubs' employees into Big Easy gigs for free ("I hope they'll do the same") and, over the long term, developing relationships with other, smaller venues in town to help talent buyer Mark Dinerstein bring concerts that can't fill the Big Easy. Margolis wants to bring a little of the competitive cooperation he sees in the L.A. scene to Spokane. "We're in competition," Margolis says, "but we're all trying to survive." He's even toying with the idea of hiring a dedicated local buyer to foster gigs for local bands.
At this exact moment, though, Margolis is focused redecorating Bourbon Street. "I see bean bags," he says.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ince Bright Eyes played, word has gotten out about the Knitting Factory's promises. Rhea Beumer, a professional photographer and booker for Empyrean who began actively sneaking into the Big Easy in the wake of the Rock Coffee debacle ("I refused to support them"), says she's seeing friends who had been boycotting the Big Easy now considering a move back. Even Patrick Kendrick, manager of the long-dead Rock Coffee and center of the firestorm, shares a guarded optimism about the new ownership. "It's great," he says. "I mean, if they actually do it." That's ultimately what everyone's waiting on, whether or not the Knitting Factory's doctrine of service and employee empowerment translates into making the "Big Sleaze" the kind of venue it should have been in the first place.