Hi-Tone Café owner Jonathan Kiersky announced on Facebook today that he's signed a lease at 412 and 414 N. Cleveland to open a new live-music venue to replace the former Hi-Tone on Popular, which closed last month.
This deal was in the works when we reported on the Hi-Tone's closure in a recent cover story, which outlined Kiersky's tentative plans for the new space:
Kiersky was approached by Chris Miner, co-founder of the nonprofit Crosstown Arts, about space available as part of a strip of storefronts on Cleveland that are being rehabbed as a component of the neighborhood's ambitious redevelopment as an arts district. The Cleveland locale already houses a gallery and exhibition space for Miner's organization. As of press time, Kiersky was close to signing a lease on two adjacent bays there.
If the deal goes through, Kiersky plans to knock out a wall separating the two bays to create one 4,500-square-foot space, with higher ceilings and much better HVAC.
"It will be about the same size as the [original] Hi-Tone, but, with the ability to remake the space, it's going to allow for a larger capacity," says Kiersky, estimating a 600-person capacity, which might allow for booking bands that had outgrown the Poplar location.
Kiersky is attracted to the idea of being able to design his own club.
"It just got to the point where the building itself was something I couldn't deal with," he says. "One of the exciting parts about this new space is we'll have a blank chalkboard. We can do whatever we want."
Along those lines, Kiersky envisions a slightly larger stage at the back of the club, rather than the Hi-Tone's odd small stage in the front corner. He imagines a bar in the middle of the room to reduce congestion. He plans on a separate smoking lounge to reduce in-and-out traffic and give patrons a place to watch a Grizzlies game even while bands are playing.
What he doesn't envision is a full-time kitchen — he says the new club would be called the Hi-Tone, sans "Café" — or booking bands every night. He sees the bar/lounge open every day, with the rest of the venue holding concerts four to five days a week. And he's excited about the potential for integration with other tenants, especially the Crosstown Arts space, which has already booked no-alcohol/all-ages shows with a 125- to 150-person capacity.
"There are a lot of bands that I really enjoy that in Memphis on a Tuesday might draw 30 people. Doing it in a 600-person room makes it look really dead to the band and to us," Kiersky says. "Having a smaller space that's a two-second walk down and still having the lounge space will be great."
At that point, Kiersky had minor hurdles to clear regarding a liquor license (getting approval from a neighboring church) and parking. As of a couple of weeks ago, Kiersky was negotiating with the landlord about his plans to knock down an interior wall in order to join the adjacent bays. The issues was tabled while the landlord was on vacation and Kiersky was at Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival representing his Ping Pong Booking & PR company.
Now, according to Kiersky, the papers have been signed and the plans are moving forward.