Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Brandt's Cafe and Red Carpet Lounge closes

St. Louis has lost another venue for live jazz, as Brandt's (pictured), the health food deli-turned-bar and restaurant that's been a staple in the Delmar Loop for 25 years, has closed. The announcement was posted Sunday on Brandt's Facebook page, and the Post-Dispatch's Kevin Johnson has a story on the closing here.

In the Post article, Brandt's co-owner Adam Brandt (nephew of founder and former owner Jay Brandt) blames recent street crime in the Loop area for the venue's demise. His assertion is disputed by quotes from Joe Edwards, owner of Blueberry Hill and other business ventures on the street, and vehemently contradicted by the story's commenters, who place the blame for Brandt's collapse on poor management and substandard food and service.

Based on the available evidence, I'd have to side with the commenters. Clearly, whatever crime issues the Delmar Loop may be experiencing at present, many businesses, including numerous restaurants and bars, continue to thrive there. Moreover, there's been an ongoing pattern of Brandt's communications with customers and the press getting fewer and further between over the four years since Jay Brandt sold out. Weekly emails touting food and drink specials and the live music lineup were discontinued, and the website and music schedule went without updates for weeks at a time, with the site eventually falling into the hands of domain-jackers. While the ability to run a website doesn't necessarily correlate with the skills needed to run a restaurant and music venue, a failure to promote can doom almost any business.

In March, yr. humble StLJN editor greeted reports of an "ultralounge" makeover to Brandt's club with what in hindsight has turned out to be quite justifiable skepticism. (Johnson's story notes that the manager responsible for the makeover actually was fired before the "grand reopening" took place.)

In the post, I asked, "Is this latest attempt to cater to the trendy crowd a savvy business decision, or a desperation move?" Guess we know the answer to that now, eh? Not long after that, I got several reports from local musicians about last-minute cancellations and disagreements over previously agreed-upon wages, which usually are a reliable indicator that a place is going down for the last time.

It's never good to lose a venue for live music, and I feel badly for former owner Jay Brandt, a decent guy and a genuine friend to many St. Louis musicians. Although the space formerly occupied by Brandt's no doubt will be snapped up by another business without delay, the club's unique connection to St. Louis music history - Jay's parents operated a club in Gaslight Square, and he booked many musicians from that era into his place - is something that's now gone forever.

Update - 5:00 p.m., 6/8/11: In the wake of yesterday's story getting more than 120 comments, the Post published another article on the Brandt's closing today, co-credited to Stephen Deere and Kevin Johnson. It recaps yesterday's story, quotes a couple of U. City council members on crime in the Loop and the difficulties of the restaurant business, and notes that Brandt's had received unfavorable reviews on websites like urbanspoon.com and yelp.com. Adam Brandt is quoted as saying he lost $300,000 on the venture, but as for specific evidence that crime is up in the Loop area, "The University City Police Department could not immediately provide statistics to refute or support the statement. Capt. Mike Ransom said it would take time to look up the numbers."

The comments on this story are similar to the earlier responses, though there seems to be a few more commenters contending that "thugs" are a significant problem in the neighborhood. However, there are very few mentions of specific incidents, and, other than a report of a cell phone being stolen from a sidewalk table, none seem to have a connection to Brandt's.

Moreover, several of the most vociferous complaints come from commenters who seem to feel threatened by the mere presence of groups of young people, black people, young black people, and/or people with piercings and/or tattoos - seriously, a couple of commenters actually mention this - and so should be considered with that in mind. Absent credible reports of serious crimes in the area, or statistical evidence that there's recently been a significant increase in crime, from here it still looks like Brandt's problems were, alas, mostly of their own making.

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