Big Changes Are in Store for Three St. Louis Venues

Apr 13, 2016 at 5:00 am

If you were privy to a personal conversation between Joshua Loyal and Kaveh Razani, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they were an old married couple. They finish each other's sentences, occasionally taking short pauses to make eye contact, in order to best firm up thoughts. They share values and approaches to life — especially life lived after the sun goes down. These days, they're also tied at the hip to a unique business arrangement that's going to reshape three existing clubs on the city's south side, with the addition of at least one more room by this summer.

The short version is that the 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center (seldom known as much more than 2720) has been re-launched, with Loyal, the co-founder and face of the franchise, now in a support position. Incoming have been Razani and nearly two handfuls of partners, all of them affiliated with a room up the block, Blank Space.

Loyal, now no longer as tethered to 2720 duties, has returned to his roots at the club that helped launch his booking career, Pop's Blue Moon, his family's place on the Hill. Lastly, a new lounge, Barcade, is set to open within the 2720 complex, and it might not be the last satellite bar within that massive, three-story space.

In discussing the particulars, Loyal and Razani riff through all manner and variants on the word "energy," using it more than a pair of yoga instructors in a free-wheeling, hour-long discussion of their ambitious yet amoeba-like plans for 2016.

"It would have been a way easier process to shut down and start afresh," Razani says. "But that would've been very difficult with the identity of the club and the momentum of the space."

"It's so negative to hear of a club closing," Loyal says. "We had a chance to avoid closing and just evolve into the next phase. It's a challenge in keeping the business going. Instead of ending it and starting fresh, we've opted, so far, to successfully execute ... "

"... an uninterrupted service to our community," finishes Razani.

With ten people having an ownership stake in 2720, a cynic might wonder if the soup could actually suffer by the addition too many ingredients. Whether through its booking policy, or in look and feel, 2720 already had the vibe of a place with many influences.

The refresh is now well underway, including a cull of the venue's legendary clutter. Visually, the space is being transformed through the talents of the Screwed Arts Collective — as Razani shoots pool and Loyal steadily taps away at his phone, SAC artists Jacob Berkowitz and Daniel Burnett are painting murals in an area that once housed Davide Weaver's massive Star Wars collection. Other elements are going away, and Razani figures on the final look being more of a "large black box."

The booking policy will hew to the previous 2720 formula, Loyal assures. Asked for a rough definition of that, he suggests, "underground. Anti-top-40. It's conscious, usually; psychedelic, often. I call it 'quality music,' but people make fun of me for saying that. I'm always interested in things that I can't give a title to, in artwork or music. I like things blending. I like how it's hard to give a definition to those. We've done burlesque to bluegrass, electronic to funk and soul, hip-hop to comedy. And a lot of things here have crossed those genres. Like, you might have a hip-hop comedy event."

What's hampered 2720's off-night draw, though, is the sheer size of the venue. With a ton of choices along Cherokee, and more coming, a big room like 2720 has had trouble developing a drinking crowd when the stage is dark. Razani's currently developing, with friends and associates, Barcade, an old-school arcade-themed project that will be held within the building, but with a stripped-back, 200 to 300 person capacity. While bands might play the room on some nights, it'll aim for more of a day-to-day, hangout feel. With, of course, dozens of games.

Blank Space, at 2847 Cherokee Street, will maintain much of the same feel as today, with several notable wrinkles, according to Razani. While the staff will be splitting time with 2720's, the eight to ten monthly events (such as the linchpin "Bump & Hustle," the art-and-music mixer "Clothesline" and the new swing staple, "House Shout") will likely stay put. The club's dozen or so one-off events monthly will continue at that pace, "giving us only five or six closed nights a month," Razani says.

"I think it's been really exciting to expand our scope," Razani adds. "It's a testament to our resolve. It's taken awhile, but for the last nine months or so we've settled into a great groove, with great people."

The primary wrinkle to the room's programming is far from ordinary for a club.

"We are finally going to start daytime hours, co-working-style," Razani says. "It'll be membership-based. We'll start out with nine-to-five access for all three floors. We'll be open consistently for freelancers, creatives — people who enjoy the energy of the space but aren't in-sync for the party. We already have resources to share: cool corners to sit in, lots of books, lots of records and people from every imaginable cultural background."

Remaining in this reconfigured puzzle is the next phase of Pop's Blue Moon, at 5249 Pattison Avenue, sitting as it ever has along I-44 on the quirky, disconnected edge of the Hill. Of late, Loyal has joined his Grigaitis family members back behind the bar, including his own pop, Terry. Non-smoking as of the new year, the room has been adding lots of music since January, with a nod toward "hip to tip" booking policies. In effect, customers come to the small room expecting to pitch in for the band, but without a formal cover. As in the past, folk, blues, jazz and variations of bluegrass have been the core of the Moon's sound.

"In stride with the smoking ban," Loyal says, "I've put the Moon back on my list. And we're figuring out just how big of a rebirth we're aiming for. I put lots of energy into the Moon from 1999 to 2007 or '08; we used to have live music six nights a week. I was there all the time and it was my full-time gig. I grew out of that a little bit; then 2720 opened in 2009. Now that the smoking exception for small taverns has expired, I have more interest in promoting events and just bringing my personal energy back to the Moon and the Hill. I've increased the programming with weeklies and monthlies."

This week, after nearly a year of possible twists and many turns, the focus for both Razani and Loyal is squarely-centered on 2720, an effort now ten-men strong.

"It's more of a co-op than it's ever been," Loyal says.

Infused by — let's all feel it together now — a whole lot of new energy.