The Griffin: One Degree from Kona

Talent-buyer Joe Rinaldi feels the Griffin took O’Connells live-music  setup “from last place to first place.”
  • Talent-buyer Joe Rinaldi feels the Griffin took O’Connells live-music setup “from last place to first place.”

“I came here to help out at the request of the owners,” says Joe Rinaldi, the Griffin’s new talent buyer. He speaks of creating an image for the venue that was once O’Connells, an Irish-themed dive bar in Bay Park, and says, “You can’t get pigeonholed into a genre,” even though most successful local music clubs are.

He talks about having booked country acts on Friday nights at the Viper Room in L.A. when he was their talent buyer and putting honky-tonk ahead of hip-hop on the same bill. “People will stay. In Temecula,” he says, “during Temecula Days? I’ve seen people in ten-gallon hats dancing to Kanye.” He’d like to fill the Griffin every night but says that’s difficult to do in San Diego. The biggest problem? A lack of what Rinaldi calls “scarcity.”

“Local groups play four to five times a month in this market. In that case, you go to the nearest place, not necessarily the nicest place.” He’d like to see local bands that get booked into the Griffin sign radius clauses, such that they would agree to not play gigs within a prescribed time frame and distance from his nightclub.

“But that’s not possible in San Diego. We’re one degree removed from Kona,” he says. “We’re like an island here in San Diego.”

From opening day sometime back in the ’70s, O’Connells seemed destined for a clientele of bikers. It was a dive where blues-rock, shots, and domestic beer fulfilled most appetites. Last year, O’Connells went on the block, and in June, Bar West owner Mike Reidy purchased the ailing venue and reworked the stage, lighting, and sound systems to Rinaldi’s specifications. “They took it from last place to first place.”

Rinaldi, 45, now lives in Bird Rock with his wife and their two children. Prior, he also booked the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard. It was a job, he says, that went away when venue operator Live Nation downsized their staff. “They didn’t replace their talent buyers.”

Will local blues-rock be in the future for the Griffin as well? No. Rinaldi says the venue won’t be successful with a business plan that looks no further than its backyard. Although Rinaldi does say positive things about local talent (he calls Joey Harris “a star masquerading as a bar band”), he knows the venue needs more. “You’ve got to have national attention.” In February, Seattle rockers Pickwick headlined Rinaldi’s first bill since taking the job.

Otherwise, the Griffin is in an experimental phase. “We’re dark,” Rinaldi says, “on many Mondays and Tuesdays.” They’ll keep karaoke on Thursdays, but for now he is putting effort into filling up the weekends. “It’s a work in progress. We’ll see how far we get toward the goal of being open seven nights a week.”

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