“When I came to San Diego in ’89, I played at the old Casbah with my punk band Big Tension,” says Matt Parker, who now plays guitar in the five-piece Americana band Bartenders Bible. “The reason we kept getting good Casbah gigs was because the other two guys were carpet-layers.”
Parker used his connection with Casbah co-owner Tim Mays to get a gig as a dishwasher when Mays and others took over the Turf Supper Club in Golden Hill. “I battled my way up to bartender.”
Parker says he could have followed Mays to the Riviera Supper Club in La Mesa after they lost their Turf Club lease seven years ago but decided instead to stay in the neighborhood and buy a sketchy joint called Nancy’s Pub.
4246 University Avenue, City Heights
“It had a reputation for violence and crystal meth.” Parker renamed it the Black Cat Bar and successfully purged the tweakers. “You can do a lot with lighting....”
But getting live music took six years. The liquor license he acquired didn’t allow for amplified music. “We knew we weren’t supposed to, but in the first years we had Beehive and the Barracudas, Joey Harris Band, and the Mario Escovedo Experience. We had the Amandas for our grand opening.”
Parker said there were never any problems or complaints during the illicit live shows. The amplified shows ended one night last year when a routine stop by a vice officer making the rounds forced them to cut the music.
“He was very nice, but he made us stop in the middle of the show.” He says the illegal shows didn’t hold him back as much as the sluggish bureaucracy. “We petitioned the [state bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control] to change that restriction and they said we needed to speak to the police. The police said we had to talk to the ABC. They finally started talking to each other.”
The Black Cat Bar finally got its liquor license amended last month to allow legal, amplified music. “The truth is, the music saves us. I don’t know if we’d be here without it.”
The Anomaly, Snakes and Crows, and Noel Jordan appear Friday at the Black Cat Bar. TV Icon, Luna Skies and Hot Mustard on Saturday.