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Last week some of you may have noticed fliers circulating around town announcing the reopening this Thursday of the one-and-only Mabuhay Gardens, aka the Fab Mab. I know I saw them, and when I did my ears, eyes, and nose hairs all perked up. Actually, I think steam shot out of my head and one of those old jalopy car-horns went off: Reopening the Fab Mab! First show in 18 years! Who dares disturb the great and powerful Oz!
Well, that would be promoter Eric Mueller, CEO of Intothewild Promotions, who intends to bring punk bands back to the venue, which has long since been replaced by a club called the Velvet Lounge. "My hope is to make it a two-to-three-Thursday-a-month thing," Mueller tells me before describing the drink specials he hopes to sell and key chains he plans to give away, which are not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the Fab Mab.
"It was a forum for free expression," says the original Fab Mab's founder, Dirk Dirksen, who insists that his club was not just a punk venue, but a place where performers of all types could get their start -- like Whoopi Goldberg, who (according to Dirksen) ironed out the one-woman show that made her famous at the Fab Mab. "Others who saw that it was financially rewarding decided, 'Oh, well, let's cash in on that,' and that's my only concern with the new people," he says. "They can go and do that, but don't do it on our name or reputation."
While it may have been a lot of things, the Fab Mab is widely considered the epicenter of California's punk rock movement of the late '70s and early '80s. Guided by the wonderfully crotchety Dirksen ("I've had my nose broken six times!" he's fond of saying), the club hosted everyone from the Sex Pistols to the Avengers, but ultimately closed its doors in 1986 because, as Dirksen puts it, "We were afraid of the accessibility and the lunacy connected with the use of guns. I figured that one of those times someone would get over the top because they didn't time their drugs right or whatever and had access to a gun, and we'd have some fatalities."
Thus, the Fab Mab was replaced by a cafe and later the Velvet Lounge, which is owned by Matt Corby, who describes the place as a lounge and dance club, complete with renovations that include "a balcony with brand-new booths and two brand-new bars." He also emphasizes the "new vagina-shaped fishbowl. Can you put that in there," he asks me, "that it's a vagina-shaped fishbowl? 'Cause that's what it is. It's a big pussy is what it is."
This is all very disconcerting.
And so I call Klaus Flouride, former bassist for the Dead Kennedys -- arguably the most important punk band this city's ever produced -- who played their first show ever at the Fab Mab. I ask him what he makes of all this. "I've been in there since it's been rebuilt, and it doesn't look anything like it used to," he says. "And I can't see how they can bring back the same underground grunginess that it had before."
"It's more of a classy grunge," insists Corby. "It's kind of a new-wave grunge instead of the disgusting piss-on-the-wall thing, you know what I'm saying?"
Classy grunge. Gee, now there's an oxymoron.
"I was kind of laughing when I was there [two weeks ago], 'cause in a sense that club is too posh," says Eric Fournier, a former record label owner who was at the original Fab Mab's premiere show and who's currently working on a documentary about the venue. "All those mirrors behind the bar would be broken, all those bottles of booze would be pulled down. ... Somebody spilled beer the other night and there were two guys out there on their hands and knees wiping it up behind them. I thought, 'Oh God, that's not gonna work.' You gotta not worry about blood or beer on the floor."
But certainly the most unnerving thing of all is that Mueller didn't even think to consult with Dirksen -- who trademarked the venue's name -- before slapping "Mabuhay Gardens" all over his fliers. When the two did finally meet last week, the former impresario of the scene was surprisingly understanding.
"Well, I think that it was an honest oversight on his part," says Dirksen. "But that leads me to be surprised that the people around [Mueller], who after all are in a position to know of us and our history, that they never said, 'Heeeey, these are the people that did that.' So perhaps somebody took credit and was therefore looking to capitalize on what we built, but that's not something that I want to accuse anyone of at this point, because I'd like to believe what Eric told me, because he seems like a pretty straightforward young man."
The compromise reached by all parties involved is that Mueller can use a different name to promote his shows at the Velvet Lounge and can, if he wants, indicate that they are "in the spirit of the Fab Mab." Mueller, much to his credit, admits his mistake.
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