Indian Givers

They induced the best national acts to play in a small barroom, and now they're shutting down. Blame the owners. Blame the Beach. Blame yourself.

"If I had it to do all over again, I would have made the front room warmer, made it feel more like a bar and less like a vacant room. I think one of the problems we had was that we weren't able to just have a bar that has music. We never made it as a bar," Honerkamp says, acknowledging that even when the Talkhouse filled for a concert, showgoers tended to bolt for the doors as soon as the band left the stage. "I'd have tried sooner to take that back space and make it accessible from the alley. At the Talkhouse in New York, you don't have to pay to come into the bar A it's a separate room. But [here] the alley was a disaster, and the City of Miami Beach didn't pay any attention to us. We could never get them to move the bums. They'd break in and steal liquor, urinate on the walls." Repeated calls to police netted the Talkhouse a hefty log of complaints, but little else. "I'm no expert, but it did seem to me there was some favoritism there, that if we were prominent celebrities that wouldn't have happened," Honerkamp theorizes.

In booking bands, the club made a special effort to be inclusive. For the so-called Woodstock generation, there was Richie Havens, Joan Baez. New-music devotees were offered acts such as Bare Naked Ladies, John Wesley Harding, Joan Osborne. The Haitian combo Boukman Eksperyans played the Talkhouse. Mario Bauza did, too. And Cachao. And Holly Near, a proven draw in the gay community. "But we should have done more legwork on what was happening locally," Honerkamp says. "We should have focused more on local people. It wasn't through New York City arrogance, though. We thought we could establish ourselves first with national acts."

While Honerkamp and Gallo are reluctant to attach blame, both cite the Miami Herald's refusal to tout their shows as a factor in the Talkhouse's inability to reach its intended audience. ("I don't think there's anything to be gained about criticizing the lack of coverage A it's our responsibility to get the word out," is the way Gallo puts it.) And anyone who wonders why the club never invested in radio advertising probably hasn't lived here long enough to know the reason: Local radio stinks. To put it another way, no single radio station in town appealed to the Talkhouse's market A intelligent people of legal drinking age. Gallo did, in fact, underwrite programming on WLRN-FM and WDNA-FM, but that hardly qualifies as a radio blitz.

One of the most common avenues for criticism leveled at any club that opens in Miami Beach has to do with the owners' place of origin, particularly if that place happens to be New York. Arthur Barron knows this well, being both a club owner and a New Yorker. His Washington Avenue bar Rose's, which he runs with his wife Charlotte, bears a spiritual resemblance to Tom Bellucci's defunct Island Club. "I never felt as though Gallo and Honerkamp were really cut out to do business in Miami Beach," Barron remarks. "They brought their Long Island attitude toward the music business to Miami Beach and never really adapted to the environment. They had a certain attitude, they were not going to be flexible, and I think they never really recovered from that."

That Barron has adapted to the environment here is a testament to his tenacity, if not to Oscar Wilde's observation that "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes." A half-dozen years before opening Rose's in 1993, he presided over an Ocean Drive jazz supper club called Tropics International, whose plummet into bankruptcy after Barron's 1989 departure embodied all that could go wrong in South Beach's ascendance to resort-heaven status. (The club's ill fortunes were chronicled in these pages in the June 1992 cover story "The Cancer of Tropics.")

This time, Barron vows, he has made certain he'll be on for the long haul. "Our primary interest in opening up a music venue was to go into something as a longevity factor. We weren't interested in making a killing, we were interested in staying in business." He doesn't charge a cover for the local bands he books, he points out.

Local bands, however, don't seem to be any guarantee of success in themselves. "Nil Lara played Thursdays at the Island Club for a whole summer," notes Tom Bellucci. "And nobody showed up. People hadn't been programmed to appreciate them yet. If they had good taste, they'd rather subordinate it to go where the herd goes."

Barron is equally blunt in assessing the area's taste for live performance in general. Mentioning the recent ill-attended Lincoln Theatre appearance of Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band -- a Grammy-nominated Latin combo that sold out the Lincoln Center in New York -- Barron adds, "Why won't people come out and support live music? I think a lot of the populace here doesn't want to sit still for an hour and a half and pay attention to the cultural aspect of a Richie Havens, a Taj Mahal. People can't appreciate how good a thing is until it's gone. We seem to have an apathetic community here."

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