Why is the Alley still open? Just this past August 27, the Allapattah all-ages nightclub posted a desperate Website message announcing it was closing its doors. "The Alley has officially been closed until further notice," the message read. "We are trying to raise money so we can reopen but we need alot of money (1500 just to pay the bills another 500 so the owner would be happy)."
But three weeks later, on Saturday, September 18, the Alley was back in business. By midnight, there were several dozen teenagers loitering around the warehouse as Broward band On Our Own pounded away on stage and Richard Larralde, the Alley's 23-year-old manager, scurried around, ensuring everyone had a good time. "This here is the real fucking scene, the real fucking kids," bellowed lead singer Carlos Fournier from the stage as a handful of skankers bopped around in the pit. "Fuck everybody else."
As it turns out, there's much more to the ominous note Larralde posted on www.thealleymiami.2ya.com than a plea for financial aid. Over the past two years, the Alley has been known as one of the top hardcore joints in the area. But being embraced by South Florida's hardcore scene has come at a price. Many older music fans who might otherwise check out the Alley have been scared away by the club's rough reputation.
This week, while he and two friends prepare the nightclub for another busy weekend, Larralde explains that there have been numerous fights outside the building, leading to fines from local police. "Sometimes it's very violent," he says. "Lately, [club patrons have] gotten into the habit of throwing firecrackers at people. This girl got hit in her eye once."
Meanwhile, the Alley is turning into something of a money pit. The punk rock kids who actually listen to hardcore have grown sick of hearing the same local bands over and over again, leading to a steady erosion of the Alley's primary audience. Larralde estimates that he has spent $20,000 over the past two years, much of it from the money he earns as a carpenter, on purchasing microphones, electric and water bills, installing chairs and couches, painting the walls, and making other upgrades. Still, he has to draw around 250 people at about five dollars a head to the 300-capacity nightclub in order to break even, which rarely happens.
So when his uncle, Rene Larralde, said he wanted to lease the space to a pair of outside businesses, Richard Larralde probably should have reacted with a sigh of relief. Instead, he has entered into a long negotiation process with his family in order to try to save the nightclub. For now, as they talk it over, the Alley will stay open. However, while Larralde's family owns the whole block, he hopes to purchase the warehouse for himself, an expensive proposition.
Is the Alley really worth it? In many ways, the place reminds this writer of another promising venue, Slak Lounge. Like the Alley, Slak Lounge had two enthusiastic owners whose ambitions and disparate musical tastes, which ranged from mod rock to progressive house, briefly lit up Miami's dull, copycat nightlife. Unfortunately, the lounge closed earlier this year after months of costly renovations and an ever-changing schedule left its patrons not knowing when, or if, the place was actually open.
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The Alley could grow into an alternative hangout for rockers eager for a change of pace from Churchill's Pub, the area's dominant live venue. But Larralde clearly has some issues to resolve before that can happen. While he has usually depended on two outside booking agents, Larralde has just formed his own, Anticore, to diversify the lineup with indie-rock, electronic, and hip-hop bands. "We're still going to have punk and ska and all that stuff," he says. "But we're going to space it out so that we have a different thing going on, and give more taste to this place." Programming good music, as countless nightclub owners will attest, doesn't guarantee a profit. But Larralde won't give up, and readily admits, "I'd do anything for this place." He's giving himself two months to turn things around. "By the end of October, I'll know if I'm staying open."
By the way, New Times ran a Local Heroes preview of a concert by Sunday Driver, Miami's talented pop-punk combo, at Soho Lounge in the September 2 issue. (The show was canceled because of Hurricane Frances). In the preview, yours truly wrote, "Hey, guys, shows are great, but when are we going to get a new record?"
That led the band's manager, Brian Kurtz, to respond with an e-mail. "To answer your question, Sunday Driver is about to start working on a new record," he wrote. "It will be out in the summer, either on Doghouse Records or a major label (we're not sure yet.)" In the meantime, pick up their 2003 debut, A Letter to Bryson City.