While many Cincinnatians spent the summer tackling home-improvement projects, club owner Janine Walz has been engrossed in a repair project of her own, preparing for the return of live music.
Walz originally expected to bring music back to Sudsy Malone's, 2626 Vine St., Corryville, by May; but now late September seems more realistic.
The club's 13-year history of hosting local and national acts ended Jan. 31 with the Hoodoo Caminos, a Rockabilly-influenced band. Since then, Sudsy's has been what the city originally certified it to be -- a combination bar and Laundromat. Technicalities surrounding that certification are what interrupted the music.
The chain of events that led to the club's last show began the day before Thanksgiving. Fire inspectors began enforcing the club's 62-person maximum capacity after discovering it never had the permits to host live music.
Walz says renovations to bring Sudsy's into compliance with fire and building codes have taken longer, and cost more, than she anticipated.
Walz installed a new $40,000 sprinkler system that stretches into the next-door Subway franchise. The club's new front windows cost $9,000. In all, Walz says, she has spent more than $100,000 in recent years on a new floor, alarms, lights and other renovations, with the majority tied to building and fire codes.
"I think people down the street will know (if there's a fire)," Walz says.
Cincinnati Building Inspector Larry Kieffer, the main inspector on the project, has seen progress.
"They're somewhat closer," he says.
The music will return as long as the fire department and city inspectors give the finished work a passing grade. The pull alarms need to be tested, the back door still needs a panic bar, the basement needs a few smoke detectors, its entrance needs a fire door and the upstairs requires a few emergency lights.
"That's basically all we're waiting for," Walz says.
The club's new permits will allow a maximum capacity of 99 people, Kieffer says.
Part of the delay in finishing the project came because an architect took months longer than expected to revise renovation drawings. Kieffer says the extra time was related to Walz's decision not to expand the club into the upstairs and basement, which required new architectural drawings. Walz' architect was also working on riverfront projects, Kieffer says.
The overhaul of Sudsy Malone's did not leave rockers without a live fix. Nearby venues the Mad Frog and Top Cat's, plus the Southgate House in Newport, among others, have steadily booked bands. But the recent relocation of Mole's Records to Calhoun Street, after more than 20 years on Vine, left Top Cat's the lone music-related business on "Short Vine." A few years ago, the street was home to two clubs, two record stores and a music-instrument store.
When city and fire inspectors give her the green light, Walz hopes to bring back local Rock acts Thursday through Saturday, and stage a new-singer/songwriter night on Wednesdays.
"It's not going to be the same as it was before," Walz says.
One change in the operation is her plan not to book any more national acts.
"It's not going to be a whole lot of national stuff, because we didn't make a whole lot of money off it," Walz says. "We kind of got away from the local talent, and it hurt us in the end."
Walz isn't worried about finding bands to play, because she's received a steady stream of inquiries asking when she plans to start hosting music again, she says.
The age of the audience will also change. Although Sudsy's used to accommodate the under-21 crowd, Walz wants to generally restrict her customers to 21-and-over to keep beer sales flowing. The old policy brought in only a few dozen younger customers a month, but Walz nonetheless regrets the need for the change.
"I hate to do that," she says, but the club's limited space is too valuable to fill with non-drinkers.
During the week, Walz wants to concentrate on the Laundromat and bar business.
"And on the weekends, we're going to rock," she says.
Several businesses have left Short Vine in recent years, but Walz says she sees signs of an upswing. LaRosa's, for example, is rebuilding its restaurant on Vine Street.
"So they must feel very confident in the area," she says.
Walz, 36, says Short Vine was a much grittier place when she first began hanging out there, but the atmosphere changed. Now she believes it's just in another low point, but will come back.
"It's turning around, but it's a slow process," she says.
And if for some reason the music didn't return to Sudsy's, it could make money as a Laundromat/bar. That's what the club has been for the past several months, Walz says.
"But the bands really added that extra flair," she says. "Sudsy's is not the same without the bands." ©