Rest in Pieces

The shattered dreams and blurred memories of Washington Square

Nothing lasts forever. There's a silver lining behind every cloud. It's not an ending, it's a beginning. If a cliche helps, choose one.

It's been three weeks since word leaked out that the Square -- that glorious pit; sweaty, smoky, black-walled den of iniquity; home away from home for musicians, strippers, drug dealers (off-duty, of course), and bleary-eyed music writers -- would be closing to become Spo-dee-o-dee, under the watchful eye of a fellow named Tommy Pooch. I've received just about every expression of sympathy in the book from concerned friends. They haven't helped. Neither do the cliches.

I predicted the Square's death months ago, but I was hoping the club would prove me wrong. There was no shortage of warning signs -- the increase in bottled-beer prices, the cold sweat that broke out on Doc Wiley's forehead when I mentioned how crowded the Talkhouse was for their first anniversary party, the sprouting up of terminally trendy clubs Bash, Union Bar, and Chili Pepper on a block of Washington Avenue that once belonged to the Square alone. But predicting the end and actually coming to grips with it are two distinctly different tasks.

Losing the Square hurts. Yes, there's almost as much speculative buzz about a new version as there is about co-owner Bill True's real motivation for going into partnership with Mr. Pooch, but the key word there is speculative. This we know for sure: first Glenn Richards's local show on WSHE-FM got the ax, then Richards himself got canned, and now goodbye Square. Forget Cheers and all that phony yuppie TV bullshit. If you were a local rock musician, Washington Square was the place where everybody knew your name.

In the words of Marnie Smith, Atlanta-based A&R scout for Sony, "It's the end of an era. When the Square got going, so did the whole South Florida scene. It created the home base that Miami never had before. The location was great, the sound system was more than adequate, and it was the greatest thing to be able to go there and hear seven bands a night. If I lived on the Beach, I'd probably hang out there every night."

I don't live on the Beach, but I did hang out there every night. It was my office.

With all due respect to venerable old Churchill's, eager newcomer Stephen Talkhouse, and the still-open Cactus Cantina (rumors of whose imminent demise continue to swirl but appear to have been greatly exaggerated), the Square was the epicenter of seismic activity in the local rock strata. The club put on an average of twelve to fifteen bands per week. More than 300 bands played in Thon '93, the club's month-long-o-rock orgy.

You have to wonder what will happen to them, especially promising bands of the punk/hardcore type, like Load or the Holy Terrors.

Offers Marnie Smith, in a statement that pretty well sums up the fear of everyone who cares about original music in Dade, "I hope Miami doesn't become the wasteland that it was before, with, like, two bands that were worth anything."

Joe Galdo, Smith's counterpart at Island Records, shares her concern. "It's a tremendous loss. The Square was a one-of-a-kind place. Half the time the bands were pretty out to lunch, but the kids went there and threw down. And some of them could really play. You could go there any night and hear four bands playing with wild abandon. It was not pretentious, not like all the discos and the other clubs with all their attitudes. We did a couple of showcases there for my boss [Chris Blackwell]; I suppose we could use the Talkhouse or whatever, but the vibe won't be the same.

"It's such a sad thing, the saddest thing that's happened on the Beach. If I could get some people motivated to open something with the same vibe, maybe I'd even put my own money into it."

Adds band manager John Tovar, "The closing couldn't have come at a worse time. For once they got their fucking air-conditioning fixed, and the sound, monitors, and lights have been greatly improved over the years. I remember doing a showcase there with Marilyn Manson for Atlantic Records, and Jason Flom, Atlantic's A&R guy, had to walk out after four songs because he thought he was going to pass out from the heat."

Tovar laughs now when he reflects on some of his memories of the club. "The Mansons played there maybe four or five times. One time Mr. Manson lit his lunchbox on-stage and he used maybe too much lighter fluid or whatever. The flames shot way up. Bill True came running and screaming, 'You can do whatever you want in my club, but don't set my stage on fire!' Another night Doc had a cow because someone in the audience tried to pour a bucket of water on Marilyn. He took the bucket and poured it on himself, in the process splashing water into all the monitors and ruining them. Doc made us pay for new ones."

Sony's Smith calls South Florida "the most bizarre and unorthodox scene I've ever seen. It's always fighting itself. Why is Miami always putting out its own flame?"

Good question. Unfortunately, the answer, if there is one, no longer matters to Washington Square.

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