Hosting original bands without a cover charge has become a successful business model at three San Diego nightspots. The owners of the Salty Frog in Imperial Beach, the Manhattan in Chula Vista, and the Pour House in Oceanside have discovered that they can afford to give bands a guarantee without using a cover charge — and still make a profit.
...live at Winston's in October, 2014
“When we first played there it was hit or miss,” says Brent Gutzwiller, banjo player with modern bluegrass band Homesick Hitchers. (They play Friday at the Salty Frog.) He says the band’s shows there over the past two years weaned Salty Frog regulars off of classic-rock covers. “The pay is average. But we sell merch, too.”
The Salty Frog’s co-owner, Kanai Williams, says, “We weren’t quite sure what it was,” when he took over the former Navy SEAL watering hole five years ago. He says the availability of local bands such as Turtle Click, Ottley Mercer, and Subsurfer convinced him to build a new stage and install a house P.A.
992 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach
“I always wanted to move away from cover bands.”
The Salty Frog’s synergy with one of their regular bands, Lexington Field, led one nationally touring band to route their upcoming CD-release tour through Imperial Beach.
“We don’t care that it’s not La Jolla or P.B.,” says Mark Sunman of Arizona’s “punkgrass” Haymarket Squares. (They play the Salty Frog on July 1.) “I suspect that more bars are turning into music venues because there is a lot of undiscovered talent just looking to connect with an audience.”
1903 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside
Williams says it was Fuzz-Huzzi singer Allen Camp who brought him his first big-name headliner (Richie Ramone, June 1). “We have to charge for that show, though.... I’ve started getting emails from agents who say they have this certain national act. I’m not exactly sure how we started to appear on their radar.”
Oceanside-area bands Taken by Canadians and Trouble in the Wind helped move the Pour House away from Aerosmith tributes.
Pour House co-owner Emily Rassel says their no-cover policy means bands need to understand they may not get paid as much as they want. “Every now and then we get someone who thinks they are Mick Jagger and wants a lot more [money]. But, generally, people are responsive to what we’re doing.”
400 Broadway, Chula Vista
The Manhattan owner Matt Cieslak knows his place is not a hipster haunt.
“You can wear cargo shorts here and no one will judge you. We’re in Chula Vista. We’re a little less pretentious. We’re a come-as-you-are neighborhood.”
Cieslak says the Manhattan is moving away from cover bands, thanks to South Bay bands Rabbit Fever and Rubbish. While he says his pay guarantees are a lot higher when he hosts heavy-hitters like Sprung Monkey, he says many times his deals are just a simple “Hundred bucks and a beer tab.” He says Manhattan is open to having live music any night of the week. “If a band just wants to come in and play on a Tuesday, I’m willing to talk to them.”