Recently I asked for bands to tell me about their nightmare gigs. The ones where everything went wrong on stage - or they never even got to play. So many reports came back with anger toward the bar managers or owners.
Yesterday I got news of a different bar owner. Martin Juredine who owned and operated the Barking Spider Tavern in the University Circle district of Cleveland Heights. He passed away from cancer.
Actually, until I Googled it, I could not remember his last name. He was just Martin. One of those guys in our community who if someone says "Martin", it has to be the Barking Spider Martin. Every other Martin had to have a surname.
As far as I knew, the Barking Spider had been around since prohibition. I never knew it to not be there. Unchanged and unapologetically simple. Its location is actually behind everything else. Stately brick buildings that house a coffee shop and other businesses are on one street in front of the Spider. Fraternity houses are on the road behind the Spider. You have to walk through the frat house yards on one side or drive thin alleys past the tall brick buildings on the other side. How this thing had an address, I have no idea.
When you get to the club, on the face of the wood slat building, there is a carved logo with the name Barking Spider and a jovial fat man holding high a big mug of beer, while perpetually leaning back on his chair to release the Barking Spider. (If you still don't know what a Barking Spider is, google that) Picnic tables fill a space just out the front door and inside to the left, a standard bartop lines the back wall behind half dozen small round tables and chairs. On the wall opposite the bar is a small wood burning stove in the left corner and a grand piano in the right. A bench runs the length of the wall between these two iconic pillars.
It is on this bench, and in front of it, that tens of thousands of musicians have played. Doesn't look like much of a stage. More of an area than a stage. Crates under the bench are the storage spot for cables, speakers, mics and other PA equipment either purchased by the bar or left there by other bands. Who knows where it all came from. But I know a capo and cable left there by my band one gig were there three months later.
When a spider is not blamed for the odd noise among the seats, there was Blackie for many years. A black lab who would quietly move among the shadows, not looking for scratches or to steal food. He just seemed to want to be there among the crowds.
Blackie was Martin's dog. And back to him for a while. Martin ran the place like it was his living room and you were just stopping by to get warm before heading home. Or cool off. Or to not go home.
No cover charge that I ever recall. There was a hockey game table in the room to the right of the entrance. And you had to go upstairs to use the bathroom. Bands were booked, but their sets usually strayed from the big stage performance into cozy hang outs. Bands were free to play what they wanted (though I remember one band being banned for butchering Angie to the point that Martin almost pulled the plug), and could go off into random jams or bring friends up on the floor with them.
Goth bands would bring acoustics, singer songwriters would have a band magically appear from the audience. Established bands would work out lots of new material.
Bands made money with a tip jar. For a long time, Martin had hired a guy named Tom to work bar. Tom was a piece of work. I don't have the words to fully describe him here. But sometimes his requests for "Tips for the band" were more entertaining than the band. One band I was in used to make up a wandering jam while Tom would come up to ask for our tip money. Tom might rant for 15 minutes about some nonsensical story - one eye larger than the other, graying hair askew, his off line teeth getting in the way of his words (or was it the "one shot for you, one shot for me" bartending code that got in the way of his story?), and would end with a rousing "Tips for the band" shout. Even when Tom no longer worked there, Martin kept a psychedelic portrait of Tom on the wall that was painted by an art student one day.
Tom may have been the weird awkward uncle you'd see at a family reunion. But Martin was the dad. Or the grandpa. This was a family place. Is? I don't know. I've been away a year. It can't have changed that much. I mean it was that way forever, right?
No, without Martin, it will be different.
In all those years, I never heard of a band complain about Martin. He would be booked up six months in advance. Nobody paid for a sound man. There was never a security issue. I never heard of a Martin giving grief for a band not starting on time or finishing early. But then again, to play the Spider was an honor and bands seemed to just do their best all around.
Sure Martin had his favorite bands and may have given them a few more gigs than others. It was his home, after all.
Yet I never noticed if the Barking Spider did any advertising. I know they never tried to capitalize on the college crowd or cater to the nearby museum crowd. It is what it is. A simple friendly place to grab a drink and hang out. And for decades, that is all it took to get people to keep coming.
Martin is the reason. It's not the decor. It's not the sound system. It's not the beer selection (though he was way ahead of his time for pouring unique beers). It was the unassuming, welcoming-but-stay-in-the-background attitude which made the Spider one of the community hubs for musicians, poets, artists, college student and friends. It was pure Martin.
A guy named Michael posted this on a friend's Facebook status, "I drank many, many beers at the Barking Spider during my eleven years in Cleveland. Martin was a gracious and always friendly host, and a man who knew how to support great musical acts. When I returned to the Spider years later to have a quick drink with my then new wife and introduce her to the bar where I spent so many nights, he not only remembered me by name but gave us a free round as a congratulations on our wedding. A sad day indeed."
If heaven is as I see it, Martin is bringing Blackie to God's tavern and they're going to host music for the rest of eternity.