Last G.I.G. at Saluté
Losing a music venue to “the wheels of progress” sucks. Losing two at almost the same time sucks twice as much. But when two venues that are right next door to each other suddenly disappear, it feels as if a giant sledgehammer had fallen on them.
Saluté International Bar, the place where the great Esteban Jordan played most of his shows the last years of his life, will close its doors sometime in July. Next-door neighbor G.I.G. on the Strip, for the last four years the local temple for acoustic singer-songwriters, will host its last show on May 27. The reason? Casey Lange, owner of Limelight and Feast, bought the property in April and most likely will turn both venues into a single business with “a food component and maybe some music into it.”
“I’m looking at the possibility of connecting the two businesses, but I have no idea if that’s going to happen,” Lange told the Current on Wednesday. “I just bought it a month ago, we’re still exploring options.”
Azeneth Domínguez had mixed feelings about the end of her run at Saluté, which started 25 years ago. On the one hand, it is her livelihood and Saluté is the closest thing to a sacred spot for conjunto fans, but she doesn’t have the means to relocate to a new place. On the other, she’s been carrying health problems for a while now and it is time for her to move on, but not without a series of strong shows in June-July, especially Saluté’s Silver anniversary on the night of June 16.
Ruben Garcia, owner of G.I.G., said he will take a hiatus before relocating elsewhere and continue working with Trey’s House, a non-profit that offers holistic healing for traumatic brain injury sufferers.
“Instead of Trey’s House under the G.I.G., it’ll be the other way around,” Garcia said. “These are the plans, nothing confirmed yet. I hope [they] don’t find [a new location] too soon, because I really want to rest.”
As the new owner, Lange is considering tearing down the wall dividing Saluté and G.I.G., but haven’t exactly decided what to do next. He will likely be a partner in the new business. He denied the disappearance of Saluté is in any way related to an effort on his part to help business at the Limelight, which is located across the street.
“It’s not at all about that,” Lange said. “I see [trying to continue Saluté] as trying to redo Taco Land and name it Taco Land. You could never live up to the legend or reputation. No matter what you do, you’ll never do it right and you’ll always end up getting criticized for it.” When I mentioned that Taco Land will probably be re-opened as “Taco Land something,” Lange didn’t miss a beat.
“I think they’re making a mistake, but that’s not my call.”
The building, located at the heart of the N St Mary’s strip between E Craig and E Russell Place, is also home for two other businesses: Homebrew Supply SA (which was given another one-year lease) and Rainbow Spirits, which will remain at the property on a month-to-month basis. Lange said he’s been talking with a bicycle shop about occupying the vacant space adjacent to Homebrew Supply SA.
“I want to have a lively strip,” Lange said. “A place where you can eat, have a drink, and maybe see a show, without having to drive to different places to do that. I don’t know if [there will be] live music or DJ, but it will not be primarily a live music venue.” In any case, he added, Saluté “is kind of small and really, really loud.”
The transition was far from smooth. Domínguez found out about the sale of the building through a third party weeks after the transaction, and at first neither her or Garcia knew who the new owner was or who to pay rent to. Lange collected the May rent in person during the day, at a time G.I.G. and Saluté are closed.
“All of the tenants at 2800 N St. Mary’s are being left in the dark about new owner’s intention,” wrote Garcia on the G.I.G.’s Facebook page on May 2. “I have had zero contact with new owner(s) and the others not much more. Not even sure where or who to pay rent to … If rumor of the businesses being exterminated from the property and a ‘megabar’ opening is true, I’ll get to have my vacation!”
Lange says Garcia refused an offer for a new lease.
“I told him he was welcome to continue but he said he’ll shut down at the end of May,” Lange said on Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday night, Garcia said that had been not the case.
“He didn’t give me no extension,” said Garcia. “All he said [on the phone] was, ‘Hi, I’m Casey, you got my rent?’ But he didn’t have to [offer a new lease] because he knew I was bailing out [after reading G.I.G.'s FB postings].” As Garcia was describing upcoming plans with Trey’s House, Lange walked up. After the two men talked for a few minutes, Lange left and Garcia didn’t want to be on the record any longer.
“I bought [the building] as a real estate investment,” Lange said. “I didn’t come into this trying to shut them down or anything.”
In just four years, and in spite of financial crisis and often poor attendance, the G.I.G. established a solid personality and it will surely be missed. But the loss of Saluté is a terrible blow not only for conjunto music but for the local music scene as well.
“For me and Esteban [Jordan] it was an orgullo to continue la música,” Domínguez said. “There was a lot of pride in what we did.”
In the last few months, Domínguez had been trying to get someone else take over the place.
“[Esteban Jordan] asked me to sell the business as soon as I could in order to regain my health,” Domínguez said. “I had someone else coming over and buying me out to take over Saluté, but when the building got sold that changed our plans.”
One of those interested in taking over the space was Daniel Delgado, owner of Hi-Tones, and a Saluté customer since he first visited the place with Manny Castillo, the late founder of San Anto Cultural Arts.
“My brother and I came very close to trying to take over Saluté, but then found the location we are at now,” Daniel García told the Current in an email. “Then a couple months ago I became interested again in seeing how I could somehow still have a chance to get Saluté and keep it the same … [That] second time around … we knew the building was for sale [and it] played a part in [the decision not to take over], but there was still that thought of what would happen if it did get sold.”
“Azeneth [Domínguez] and I came to a friendly understanding on how this is going to wind down,” Lange said after finally meeting with Domínguez on Wednesday. “There’s no bad blood between us.”
“This is business, that’s fine,” said Dominguez after meeting with Lange. “It’s not him, it’s me. I just can’t go on. All I’m focusing now is in having great shows in June and July. I want it to be una despedida bonita [a nice, pretty farewell].” — Enrique Lopetegui