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Metro Gallery: Soon More Drinkier

March 13, 2008
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The Metro Gallery’s tentative planned bar and stage renovations.

The Metro Gallery, an arts and live music space in the Station North Arts District, plans to add a bar this spring thanks to its recently acquired liquor license. Noise sat down with Metro Gallery owner Sarah Williams earlier this week to discuss what the future holds, including a series of free one-band-bill shows.

City Paper: What was involved in the process of obtaining the liquor license?

Sarah Williams: We opened in June of last year. We knew we wanted to be able to sell alcohol because we are a multi[use] space. The first idea, since Baltimore City doesn’t create any new liquor licenses anymore, was to open a café in here. I managed at Joe Squared for a while. I’ve dealt with managing a restaurant before, but I was more in charge of the bar. I know a lot more about that as opposed to cooking.

I was willing to do it because I know we had to get some kind of restaurant beer and wine license. But Joe, he had a tavern license over at Joe Squared. Since he put so much money into his business–if you spend a certain amount of money, the city of Baltimore will allow you to get a restaurant license. He transferred over to that license, and I was able to buy his [tavern] license for this space. Then we had to apply for a transfer of ownership with Joe. We had the hearing [last] Thursday, and it went through. I still can’t serve alcohol till I have the bar built and it’s inspected by the Health Department. We’re looking at [the] middle to end of April for it to actually open.

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. We listened to a lot of other liquor board hearings while we were there. Luckily I didn’t have any hoops to jump through because I [went] to the community association and asked if it’s OK. I’ve been a pretty active member in the community association for the last couple [of] years. So, that definitely helped.

The liquor board even said they try helping out more gallery and multi-spaces because they know it’s a lot harder to bring in revenue from just artwork–or even with just bands. You are dealing with paying the bands, and [when] you can’t sell alcohol, it’s pretty much impossible to make money in any other way.

CP: Where is the bar going to be?

SW: It’s going to start [in the back] and loop around like a horseshoe. One thing that is important to me is for [the bar] to not interfere with the gallery space. I like places that are like a café and a gallery, but I really want [Metro] to be taken seriously as a gallery. So, we’ll definitely create separation between the two sides of the room.

We’re building a stage, too, which is going to stay up there where [the performance area is] at right now [by the front windows of the space]. We were waiting on everything because we weren’t sure what direction we were going. We would have had to do a completely different model if we were serving food. I really, really didn’t want to be making bagels. I would have done it because we had to, but I am really happy running a bar out of here. It’s going to be a lot easier.

CP: So now that you are building a bar, is the place going to be open every evening or just for events?

SW: We’re not going to be open every evening, at least for the first year. I want to start small and grow from that. It will probably be mainly events, but I can book more events now that there’s other revenue coming in. We’ll probably be open from Wednesday [to] Saturday and maybe some Sundays. I’ve been tossing around a brunch idea.

But, really, what was important for me is to keep the commission down, on the gallery side, for the artists. Now, I am trying out [something] new. I’m still going to have shows with multiple bands playing. But, a lot of out-of-town bands that haven’t been to Baltimore yet and [don't] have a draw–I’m doing free shows for that band for that evening. I can pay them off the bar. No one is really losing money off of it, and [the band] gets exposed to a lot more [people].

In the old Marble Bar, they used to do two-band bills all the time. I never went there, but I’ve heard awesome stories about it. So, I’m trying. There will still be some admission fees if it’s more bands. But it will be a neat opportunity–for people, if they are just looking for a bar and a band shows up, they’re only playing one set, so if you hate it it’s no big deal. But, it’s really going to expose people to music they aren’t used to, which is good. You know, when I opened this place my musical tastes have completely changed because I have heard some really awesome bands come through.

CP: What kind of stuff are you going to be serving in the bar? Is it going to be like, taps for draft beer?

SW: We’re going to have some taps. I’m meeting with the distributors next week. At Joe Squared, I was the general manager, but I was more of the bar manager there. So, there will be a lot of the same stuff I was ordering there. It will be a full bar.

CP: What’s coming up?

SW: Our next art opening is April 4, featuring two artists from the area, [CP contributing illustrator] Okan Arabacioglu and Brian Payne. The show is called Ironing, they have both done illustrations in The Urbanite, the City Paper , and a whole bunch of different places. It’s a really good chance for them. They’ve been doing so much commercial work–being told what sort of work to produce–that [now] they are finally able to do something more abstract.

We have a couple of really good bands coming through in April. We have Scream Club coming through on April 13.

CP: Are they a queercore group?

SW: Yeah. They are awesome. They are playing with this band Boyskout from New York. Then, on April 19, Girl in a Coma. They went around with Morissey. They were his opening band.

CP: His opening band was named after one of his songs?

SW: I know. It’s a three-girl group. I honestly didn’t know anything about the band. I won’t lie. They are on Joan Jett’s record label. I’ve looked through a lot of her stuff, that she has on her label. It’s been pretty cool stuff.

Once May hits we’ll definitely have the bar going. I’m going to start playing with that one-band-a-night idea. Not for all shows, but for a lot of them. It’s going to be free and one band probably playing two sets. We’ll see how it goes.

CP: The bands you just mentioned, it’s mostly girls in those bands. Are you trying to promote that?

SW: Um, no.

CP; Did it just work out that way?

SW: It kind of works out that way. When I first started, I really didn’t have the intention of this being a multiuse space. I threw art shows before and would have bands play the opening, but that was it. That’s what I thought I was going to do with this space.

Then, I started getting into booking and met this band, Pariah Piranha, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Three women from up there. They were just talking [about] how from being out of town–and they weren’t trying to be all “[This is] sexist”–but it’s really hard for female bands. You play in this niche area, where it’s usually lesbian bands and you can only play at certain clubs.

I end up with a lot of those bands because they do have trouble getting shows at other places, especially if they are newer bands. There aren’t that many female club owners, and I think it’s a little more comfortable for people to book that way. I usually end up really liking it. A couple people have commented on it–that there are a lot of female bands. But, I just pick what I like and I like a lot of their music. Boyskout has played here before. They’re an awesome band. And we’re hosting part of Ladyfest in April, too. We’re hosting the kickoff here.

I’m open to anything, but in Baltimore, you know, it’s the only female-run venue. So, a lot of people naturally come over to here, like Ladyfest, because it’s definitely an open door.

CP: Ladyfest is invested in trying to use women-owned everything.

SW: Yeah. There definitely are so many women business owners, I’m not saying there aren’t. But in Baltimore it’s a little harder to find, especially in a live music thing.

[Ladyfest] is so put together with everything. I’m not saying men aren’t, but the dealings I’ve had with organizations–sometimes I feel it’s a little easier to work with women than it is with men. [With] a lot of my booking, I’m a control freak with it and do it myself, so it has become a trend, a little bit.

Events at Metro Gallery

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