Chris Heaney’s venues venture

La Mesa’s Navajo Live — his latest — is now paying off

Navajo Live’s Chris Heaney with Czech singer Lenka Dusilova
  • Navajo Live’s Chris Heaney with Czech singer Lenka Dusilova

A glam-metal headbanger from Philly has been hosting live bands in San Diego for 26 years.

“My first club was the Playhouse on El Cajon Boulevard,” recalls Chris Heaney about his first venue that he built by hand in 1992. “It’s now called the Til-Two Club. I broke open the back wall and made it into a music venue.” Heaney says he got the bug to own venues when he noticed, “We were making a lot of money for club owners but little for ourselves.” In the early 90s, Heaney worked in tandem with Tim Hall: Heaney did the sound while Tim booked the bands. They teamed up to do shows at now defunct bars such as Dream Street in OB, and the Spirit Club in Bay Park.

“We tried to buy Dream Street, but we got shot down,” explains Heaney. “Then we heard Jerry Herrera was selling the Spirit.” Hall, Heaney, and a third partner went in to buy the Spirit and renamed it Brick by Brick.

The 400-capacity venue thrived and booked national headliners such as Ice T, Sugar Ray, Ronnie James Dio, Squirell Nut Zippers, Suzanne Vega and local standouts Jewel, Rocket From the Crypt, and Uncle Joe’s Big Ol Driver. “Tim [Hall] had an uncanny knack of knowing who to book,” says Heaney. “One of his secrets was seeing who Conan O’Brien would have on as musical guests, and seeing what bands were used on clips in Beavis and Butthead.”

Heaney reckons he and Hall would still own Brick by Brick today if it was not for a major hitch: their third partner. “We found out he was stealing from us.” Heaney declined to go into the more colorful details about the third partner. Hall split for Jacksonville where he continues to own and book the Jack Rabbits Live concert venue.

Heaney’s next move in 2002 was blessed with timing, a smart programming choice, and a 20-year lease.

He named his new 30th Street bar Kadan, and remodeled it in a Gothic/medeival theme. The new bar anticipated the North Park boom. “At that time the only thing happening in North Park was Scolari’s Office.” And while Heaney did have rock bands on occasion at the Kadan, he discovered the best concept for his smallish club was electronica. “The downtown clubs with DJs would have more pop. We were more into the techno, drum-and-bass, dubstep, and Glitch pop. We would be experimental on weekends while downtown was more pop.”

Business was good. But in 2012 Heaney’s perfect formula was torpedoed when his landlord went belly up. Heaney’s 20-year lease was legally deemed null and void. “That was a blow to me. The new owners wanted to do something more upscale.”

The Kadan space is now occupied by a premium mixed drink lounge called Polite Provisions.

Meanwhile Heaney’s love of music led him to open the Radio Room at the former Zombie Lounge on El Cajon Boulevard. Heaney eventually sold the Radio Room. Like a lot of folks priced out of hip central neighborhoods, he looked east. “I knew La Mesa was an up-and-coming place.”

Heaney’s latest venture, Navajo Live, opened in early 2015 in a strip mall on Navajo Road and Lake Murray Boulevard, a couple of blocks east of State Route 125 in the Lake Murray area of east San Diego. The bar hosts live music six nights a week. Four of those nights are dedicated to original music. “We made the stage larger, upgraded the sound system, and we never have a cover charge.”

Now in its fourth year, Heaney says his formula has started paying off. “I think it still has the feel of a rock and roll club. I couldn’t be doing this stuff where the overhead is extremely high. And even though we hold 200 people, they way this place is set up, if we get 50 people, we feel nice and full.”

Navajo Live

8515 Navajo Road, San Carlos

Navajo Live presents the Becca Jay Band on Friday, November 9; Serious Guise on Saturday, November 10; Underground Goth Industrial DJ Sunday, November 11; and Shark Jones Band and Nathan Raney Band, Wednesday, November 14. Thursdays are open mic, Mondays are accoustic open mic.

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