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The Justice League and Cafe Du Nord survive the winds of change

Wednesday, Feb 26 2003
Justice lives! Although there was a U-Haul parked outside the Justice League last week, there's no need to worry. Despite erroneous reports of a closing (courtesy of Billy Jam's Hip Hop Slam news service) and a sale (thanks to Beth Lisick's Buzz Town column on, the Western Addition venue will reopen for business under its current name and management sometime in the next two months. "We're not going anywhere," says Candida Martinez, the J-League's manager, publicist, and co-booker, via phone.

Many local music fans have been wondering what's up with the club, as it's been silent since rapper GZA performed on Dec. 19, 2002. Martinez explains that she and owner/co-booker Michael O'Connor never meant to disappear -- they simply wanted to remodel the venue and reorganize the staff in order to improve business.

Ironically, the nightspot's been hurt by the success of some of its best touring acts. After hip hop groups like Jurassic 5, Common, and Talib Kweli drew crowds at the Justice League, they jumped to the Warfield and the Fillmore, leaving the smaller space in the lurch. Of course, Martinez's numerous health issues (see Pop Philosophy, Oct. 16, 2002) haven't helped matters: She just went into the hospital for her third operation, and a fourth is already scheduled, although she says she's feeling much improved. Then there's the matter of the funky urinelike smell that's plagued the venue since its days as the Kennel Club. "I'll be the first one to admit that the club was kinda gross," says Martinez. "Fortunately, people overlooked that because of the music."

In the hopes of making the Justice League a more hospitable environment, the staff is moving the bar against the back wall and gutting the bathrooms. When the club reopens, Martinez also hopes to let in some fresh musical air. "I would like to support more of the local scene," she says. "We haven't been able to because it's such a big space, but on the off nights I would like to see more rock and jazz from local bands." Sounds downright rosy.

Can you get rid of that one beam that's always in the way? Meanwhile, over at Cafe Du Nord, the toilets smell just fine -- or at least good enough for Guy Carson, who's on the verge of acquiring the whole joint (he hopes to close escrow this week). Since Cindy Johnson put the elegant tavern on the market late last year, rumors have been swirling about prospective buyers wanting to turn it into another DJ venue. While I certainly wouldn't want to come down against dance clubs, the number of live venues in S.F. is becoming as minuscule as George W. Bush's IQ.

Fortunately, Carson is insane enough to have spent a large amount of money (he'll only say "a lot") during a recession on -- get this -- a nightclub. "All of my career choices to date have been clearly illogical, so I'm being consistent," he laughs when asked about his common sense.

Carson moved to the Bay Area in 1984, quickly finding work as bassist for avant-blues guitarist and Residents pal Snakefinger. After the axeman's unexpected demise in 1987, Carson played with the Potato Eaters, a countrified experimental outfit. Throughout the '90s, he served as booker for the Hotel Utah, in what many consider the club's heyday. When the Utah was sold in 2000, Carson quit. "It was like a painting," he says of his job. "All I could do was touch it up at that point."

After the owners of Slim's purchased the Great American Music Hall last year, Carson came on as booker. "I feel like I was one of the people who was glad Slim's bought the Great American; now there's a solid music scene, and it's not going away." He hopes to add to that security with his acquisition of Du Nord. "We want to build on the legacy of the club -- they've been doing a lot of stuff that we'll be doing. But we want it to be more rock 'n' roll and less of a supper club." He plans to get rid of the venue's longer residencies and try out a variety of wilder, weirder acts instead. "The beauty of having a venue this size is you don't have to sweat as much," he says, then adds, "This is a longtime thing for me. It's a dream come true."

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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