When Prozack Turner and Tim Martinez opened the Layover in 2009, downtown Oakland's renaissance was in its infancy. Now Turner and his wife RaeAnne have gone out on their own and taken a chance on another neighborhood — the block of Telegraph Avenue before West Grand Avenue.
Legionnaire Saloon quietly opened on Friday, March 1, in Club Paradiso's former location at 2272 Telegraph Avenue. When the venue recently hosted a showcase of local beatmakers, it still didn't have a sign outside, but the wiry and energetic Prozack was inside tending bar. He said he had just gotten the keys in January, the same month he officially dissolved his partnership with Martinez, who owns and runs the Layover with his wife Christi Vaughn. The Turners had been a silent partner in the Layover since 2011 and started negotiating to lease the new space in April 2012. Prozack said most of Legionnaire's employees are also investors in the club.
Turner entered the nightclub business after spending a decade as an emcee in hip-hop group Foreign Legion, and quickly became the face of the Layover when it opened as a high-concept music venue. He told the Express in October 2009 that the Layover planned to host live music and avoid the Top 40 hip-hop trap, and he's bringing a similar approach to Legionnaire Saloon, but this time with a second-story space to book separately.
The Turners remodeled the venue extensively, transforming Paradiso's cinderblock-walled sparseness into a pub with dark-wood paneling, wooden booths, bar stools with plush vinyl seats in hunter green and red, and retro touches: antique mirrors, vintage maps, black-and-white photographs, a jukebox loaded with 45s, and three pinball machines.
Word about the new venue spread quickly among local DJs, many of whom have approached Prozack about playing gigs, but he explained he's looking for something different. "I'm like, 'Come back to me with an idea, man,'" Turner said. "I'm demanding DJs do something. I want things to happen here."
On its first night open, Legionnaire hosted Juice, a live hip-hop event curated by G-Koop and DJ Platurn and hosted by Foreign Legion. Prozack said he paused from plunging a toilet to take the small stage in the upstairs room and perform a few songs. The official opening party has not yet been announced, but Prozack said he's aiming for early April and working on a lineup featuring a few of his famous hip-hop friends. Whether they're well-known or just starting out, Turner wants to give artists of every genre a place to play.
"There are so many talented people in Oakland," he said. "It's venues like this where people meet and later collaborate. A lot of venues in Oakland are too big for local bands."
The less-is-more mindset is also motivating New Parish co-owner Michael O'Connor to open a second, smaller East Bay venue. O'Connor and his business partner Jason Perkins are searching for an Oakland space that is closer in size to its 250-capacity San Francisco venue, Brick & Mortar Music Hall.
Since they opened The New Parish in 2010, which has a 450 capacity, O'Connor said booking has been a constant struggle because he has to compete with San Francisco venues of the same size. As the Express previously reported, the music industry considers the East Bay and San Francisco the same market, and radius clauses often prohibit artists from playing more than once within ninety days and ninety miles of their last gig (see "Traveling Bands Do Not Cross," 1/18/2012).
"For every show you see on our calendar, I'm getting twenty 'nos' for other shows," O'Connor said. "I didn't think it would be nearly this hard to book here."
O'Connor is hoping a smaller venue will offer an opportunity to book local acts before they're big. If all goes according to plan, he'll open his new space in 2014 at the earliest, he said. O'Connor and Perkins are also looking to open a venue in San Jose.
In more good news for local artists, venerable San Francisco biker bar The Eagle Tavern (398 12th Street, San Francisco) reopened on Sunday, March 3, under the new name SF Eagle and plans to revive its rock shows on Thursday nights. After the thirty-year-old venue closed in 2011, the community and city battled to reopen the space and keep it LGBT-friendly. According to GrubStreet.com, the new owners plan to reinstate other longtime events, including Charlie Horse's drag show, which starts on Saturday, April 6, and Sunday beer-busts.
Despite repeated fines by the City of Berkeley for amplified noise and serving food without a permit, Berkeley's Birdland Jazzista Social Club has continued to host parties sporadically over the years. Owner Michael Parayno said the underground jazz and world music venue may close now that he's permanently moved to the Philippines (although he toyed with the idea of having volunteers keep it going), but said the parties will return for most of June and July while he teaches a six-week course at City College of San Francisco. Check BirdlandJazz.org for updates.