A 20-year veteran of the independent music promotion business, Greg Clark is full of sage advice.
“Never name your bar after a dead bird,” he warns, referring to one of his past ventures—a bar called Waldo’s. Named for the dead mynah bird from Twin Peaks, it is perhaps the least memorable of a long series of clubs Clark has spearheaded, since starting his first—the all-ages Club Flamingo—in 1983. Not unlike Condon MacLeod’s Cafe Ole, the first incarnation of the Flamingo was borne out of the visible need for the underage punks and outcasts of the day to have a place to gather.
Inspired by a trip to New York, Clark opened a combination used record store and headshop in 1980. Initially called Backstreet Imports, it occupied the Rock Candy space on Prince Street, and quickly built a clientele of Metro’s young and disaffected. At the time, arcade-style video games were just beginning to enjoy mass popularity.
“I phoned up the supplier and said ‘get me one of these games down here,’” says Clark, “so I brought it down and whoa—the kids that were hanging around there were now pumping money into this thing, so I said, ‘Get me another one.’”
Starting with now-classic titles like Asteroids and Space Invaders, Backstreet Imports became Backstreet Amusements as the kids tipped the scales in favour of the arcade side. It soon outgrew its humble 800- square-foot space, and the kids started spilling out into the street. “It started taking off,” says Clark. “There were like 100 kids hanging out there on a weekend night.”
A dispute between landlords would soon shutter Backstreet Amusements permanently, but not before Clark started Club Flamingo, in the space now occupied by the Chef’s Room restaurant, in what we now know as the Liquor Dome. Back then, it was “a bunch of pretty cool spaces . . . there were artists in there, Jest in Time had a space.” Soon, though, the Grafton Connor group purchased the building, transforming it into the Dome.
Undaunted, Clark and his business partners moved to the Wormwood’s space at 2112 Gottingen and continued to offer all-ages programming as well as repertory cinema. An opportunity came to sell the building, and Clark and company moved again, this time into the basement of the Aliant—then MT&T—building, where the Pacifico nightclub now resides. The unfortunate fiscal reality of running an all-ages club led Clark to the conclusion that “if you want to survive in the entertainment business, you’ve gotta have booze.” The new venture was christened the Pub Flamingo, and would be the first in a long series of rock bars Clark would operate or book, including such benchmark venues as the Double Deuce, Birdland, the venerable Marquee Club and of course, the recently deceased Stage Nine, which closed on January 1.
Clubs come and go, and Clark’s were no exception, falling victim to everything from uncooperative landlords, to uptight Barrington Gate condo residents, to restrictive liquor licenses. In the case of Stage Nine, Clark cites myriad factors, including the recent enactment of the HRM smoking prohibition bylaw.
“The smoking thing hit, which definitely had an effect,” he says. “We have 600 square feet of the bar which is essentially useless to us now.”
Stage Nine, which opened in June 2004, focused on promoting local independent music, just like Clark’s previous ventures, and was so named because it was the ninth bar he’d operated. In addition to the ill timing of the smoking bylaw change—coupled with a slow autumn for the bar—Clark mentions that there seems to be a general downturn in attendance.
“I think that the local scene is as strong as it’s ever been as far as the bands are concerned,” he says, “but it seems like people aren’t coming out quite as much to shows.”
Resilient as ever, Clark plans to stay in the game and open yet another live music venue. He chortles at my suggestion of Stage Ten, reticent to discuss his next move openly, offering only this tongue-in-cheek quip: “My next bar is gonna be a shit bar. Enough trying to do music with integrity.”