News Column

Building's sale raises questions about Lake Worth music club's future

May 17, 2014

By Joe Capozzi, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

May 17--LAKE WORTH -- After the rowdy applause to one of his songs finally died down, blues guitarist Albert Castiglia looked out from the stage at the Bamboo Room on a recent Saturday night and reminded the crowd how the club is a favorite venue for musicians.

Then, before launching into his next song, he offered a final, cryptic comment: "This place needs to stay open.''

The remark was lost on most people in the packed house, but club regulars knew exactly what Castiglia meant: The Bamboo Room, a Lake Worth nightlife staple that has hosted live acts from Bo Diddley to Ben Prestage, faces an uncertain future.

The Bamboo Room, which has helped spur a trendy renaissance on South J Street, will close for the summer after the May 31 show by JP Soars & The Redhots. When and if the club will open again is not known.

The Bamboo Room is in the Paradise Building, which was put up for sale a few months ago by the owners, husband and wife Russell Hibbard and Karen McKinley. They bought the building in 1996 for $282,500, according to county records, and opened the music club in 1999.

Hibbard said he and his wife are in negotiations with "a couple of interested parties" who are Bamboo Room regulars but do not live in Lake Worth. He hopes to have a deal in place by June.

"We owned it for 18 years. We did an extensive restoration of the building, specifically to deliver quality live music and cocktails,'' said Hibbard, who lives in College Park.

"We are proud of what we've done, but Karen would like to retire in a couple of years and being a landlord is not in our plans.''

Suitors could end shows

Hibbard said the potential suitors have indicated they would continue with the Bamboo Room's tradition of offering an escape for lovers of live music from top blues and classic rock acts -- from John Hammond and Tinsley Ellis to Elvin Bishop and Pat Travers.

"Of the several parties who have expressed interest, the two who are regulars are absolutely interested in doing it that way,'' Hibbard said.

"As far as we are concerned, the name of the place does not change. Frankly, a couple of those serious parties recognize the value of that name, too.''

But the sale is not contingent on continuing with the Bamboo Room's current formula as a venue devoted to live music, said John Kelly, the Jupiter-based Business America Realty broker representing Hibbard and McKinley in the sale.

"Russell and his wife have made it clear they would like it continue with that, but they haven't made that a requirement at all. You never know,'' Kelly said.

The Bamboo Room closed at the end of May 2008, citing the tanking economy and a lack of midweek customers. But it opened again in 2011 and continued its tradition of live rock and blues, this time only on weekends.

Although Hibbard said the Bamboo Room has closed for the summer and reopened in the fall every year since 2011, Castiglia said he and other musicians are "really nervous" about the club's future.

"Russell and his staff ran the place the way a music venue is supposed to be run, and I'm not optimistic, if it changes hands, that it'll be run the same,'' Castiglia said.

"It's one of the few music venues in South Florida where people actually come to see and hear music. There are no TVs. Everybody is focused on the music. There's a good chance it could end up being a sports bar or a microbrewery and that stage we play on will end up being replaced with a bunch of tables.''

City councilman Andy Amoroso said he is hoping the Bamboo Room's future doesn't slow the pace of downtown Lake Worth's resurgence, which is getting a boost with the sale of the historic Gulfstream Hotel.

"I would hate for the Bamboo Room to go away, but if somebody with music could take it to the next level that would be a great thing,'' he said.

Key part of neighborhood

The anxiety is also felt by merchants on South J Street, which has enjoyed a re-birth in recent years with the opening of Coastars Coffee, Top 5 Records and Excelsior, a comic book store.

They're all part of a block that includes the alternative rock club Propaganda and the Poutine Dog CafÉ, which is below the Bamboo Room and will stay at least through 2017 under the terms of a new lease.

"I hope they are asking a hefty price so it will be there forever. It's too important to the county,'' said Joyce Brown of the Clay Glass Metal Stone Gallery at 15 S. J St.

Indications are that a sale price could be more than $1 million. Kelly said recent appraisals put the value of the building at $975,000. A liquor license is worth $65,000. And he said renovations to the Bamboo Room, with depreciation, are worth about $200,000.

The entire Paradise Building -- designed and built in 1923 by Sherman Childs, Addison Mizner's architect -- is 7,974 square feet. But not including a basement, the leasable space is 7,374 square feet, Kelly said.

"They have rehabbed everything, from the plumbing to the electrical. The property is in perfect condition,'' Kelly said.

The Bamboo Room takes up 4,568 square feet including a ground-floor entrance where visitors are greeted by an antique Greyhound Bus ticket booth was salvaged from an old Sinclair gas station in Augusta, Ga.

The main club is upstairs, where Florida artist Clarence Measelle created the painting "Blues Bar" and produced the airbrushed cut-outs and canvas wings next to the stage.

The walls are covered with acoustic guitars, vintage concert posters and pre-WW II 78 rpm records. Mounted animal heads evoke memories of Leo's, a pool hall in the Paradise Building in the 1960s.

On Saturday, the Bamboo Room hosted Big Bill Morganfield, the son of blues legend Muddy Waters.

Hibbard said it's premature for Bamboo Room-lovers to panic. He said it would make sense for the new owner to continue the club's winning formula.

"If you give the musicians something special to play in, they will deliver and audiences will appreciate it,'' he said. "You can't build goodwill. Places like this develop. It takes time.''

Hibbard, 58, said he and his wife, who is 55, would like to spend more time working on other projects and traveling around the world.

"We haven't been able to do that in recent years,'' he said. "That's one thing about having a place like the Bamboo Room. It's like a pet, in a way. You can't just pack up and leave.''


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Source: Palm Beach Post (FL)

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