Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…
The Other Place
Every business has one. They try to avoid calling the Other Place by name but every business does have one. The Other Place is usually in the same business and in direct competition
The Bar was no different.
The Other Place was a short walk from The Bar and was basically a restaurant that had a much smaller bar. Still, the Other Place had a full service bar and there was room for a dance band, a p.a. system and tables and a dinky little dance floor that was separate from the restaurant itself. They had a bigger parking lot. The main difference, to the casual drop-in customer was that The Bar, along with having the showcase back bar, was almost totally devoted to drinking and live music presentation. True, it had a kitchen but after the first year it became more of a lunch and happy hour food concession. The Other Place was initially more focused on food.
But that was just initially.
It soon saw the value of the young “party hearty” crowd and started to gear their business to capitalize on this. They also, being in business to be making money rather than friends, installed dispensing guns for their alcohol that strictly measured every drop eliminating any possibility of overpouring on the part of the bartender. This, while impersonal, has a dramatic and positive effect on pour cost, the definitive number that relates to actual profit taken by the business.
Remembering that this entire missive is to describe the rise and fall of a saloon in the latter part of the twentieth century we shall see how in many ways the Other Place was quicker to spot and capitalize on fads and trends.
Would T.O. have had a longer run with The Bar than he’d had if he had followed their lead? Hard to say. Looking back on it from the comfort of hindsight I am sure that he would have made more money longer if he had been quicker to capitalize on fads. Following a lead means the Other Place got the idea first. And many times, that meant they got most of the money.
Oddly, a band that worked well at The Bar often did not do well at The Other Place and vice versa so at least in that area the competion was not as bad. But catching the New Idea, the New Trick coming down the road…
An excellent example follows.
One morning T.O. and myself were at the table by the side door reading the morning paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, over our morning coffee. That’s what Mornings are for… morning things…
I was reading ‘The Datebook’ which is the arts and entertainment section of the paper.
I knew he had already read that section but when I read an article about Karaoke, then a new phenomenon from Japan, I was intrigued. I had never heard of it. You hire something like a DJ with a video machine and allow regular people to fulfill their fantasies and sing popular songs with the lyrics projected on a screen. What a Concept! We already had a good pull down screen we used for NFL games so it looked very interesting to me.
“T.O., did you see this thing in the paper about this Karaoke business?”
T.O. acknowledged that he had indeed seen it.
“Maybe we should give it a try.”
One word. “No”
That ended that and what happened next was that the Other Place looked into it. It was a little pricey for the day, costing almost as much as hiring a decent four piece band. But there were advantages.
They were not as noisy. It took up less room. It got the entire audience involved either as singers or as well wishing spectators. It was fun. And the biggest advantage was Being First.
Being First on a new fad gave you a tremendous edge on your competition. You not only got the reputation for Being First but once the customer was on your premises you could sell them your entire broadside of what you had to offer… music, pretty waitresses… good looking bartenders and a sense of telling the new customer that they will have more fun in your saloon. Word of mouth does the rest. Far better than any ad….
The Other Place booked a Karaoke D.J.
And it took off, big time. The effect on The Bar was immediate and stark. The Other Place initially booked it for Wednesday nights but after seeing the results at the register, booked it for Friday and Saturday nights also. Suddenly, the weekends dropped off like a bad day at the stock market. I mean we cut back from a three waitress night on Friday and Saturday to two and much of the time one of those would go home early.
By the time T.O. decided it might be something worth doing the First Mad Rush of the Karaoke fad had passed through,
I could never figure out how he thought things through. He looked at the whole concept of Entertaining People differently than he should have. I think, when he first saw the coming of Karaoke, he looked at it as something he might not want to do. Ergo, his customers wouldn’t either. I don’t know. Certainly the ones that came in and stayed to drink all day would not indulge in a glorified sing-along. But they would stay if The Bar had sheep grooming contests. Getting new people, particularly women, into the place was what kept a saloon thriving,
It is fatal for a club or live music saloon to not keep things interesting. You constantly had to get the public’s attention somehow.
In any case, T.O. finally relented and we brought in a Karaoke vendor that tried but even with an actual stage and lights available for those who wanted that it just didn’t quite get off the ground. It just came close to breaking even.
Finally it got so the fad faded at The Other Place too and we all went back to booking bands.
I think we may see a lesson here…
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