Restaurant to open at Blues Alley site


The blues is going out of the old Blues Alley nightclub here.

So is the jazz, and the reggae and country music, too -- at least for the foreseeable future.

The showcase club in the Mount Royal cultural district -- which opened seven years ago as Ethel's Place, then became Blues Alley and later the International Pavilion but has been dark for the past several months -- is scheduled to reopen in November as Spike and Charlie's Restaurant and Wine Bar.

Baltimore brothers Charles and David "Spike" Gjerde say that initially they will offer no live music in the space that over the years featured such top-name entertainers as Sarah Vaughan, Koko Taylor and Rodney Crowell and was widely regarded as having the best acoustics in the city.

Eventually, however, they say they hope to bring live music back to the club at 1225 Cathedral St., first with local entertainers and perhaps later with national acts.

"A lot of people have been concerned Ethel's is going to die as an entertainment venue," admitted David Gjerde, formerly a chef at several restaurants who is making his first attempt at running his own eatery. "But once we get settled, they'll be happy to see [music featured] again."

"In the past, most people considered [the site] an entertainment venue," he added. "It never really got off the ground with the food operation. We're going to get the place on its feet as a restaurant and wine bar and then we'll go after the entertainment."

Jazz singer Ethel Ennis and her writer husband Earl Arnett, who opened the club on New Year's Eve 1984, say that while they ideally would like to see the club continue as a music venue, a restaurant operation is preferable to having the doors shuttered. "We would like to see the corner remain alive in some form," Ms. Ennis said.

She and her husband operated the club until April 1988, when they sold it to the owner of Washington's Blues Alley. The club reopened in September 1989 as Blues Alley but closed 10 1/2 months later. After being closed nearly a year, it reopened in July 1990 as the Caribbean-styled International Pavilion but lasted only six months. It then had a brief run as a weekend dance club but has been dark since May.

A hearing is set for Thursday before the city liquor board to transfer the license from John Bunyan, who operated the club as Blues Alley, to the Gjerde brothers.

Dan Henson, development director for Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse, which owns the building, said the company chose the Gjerdes over several interested parties because of their "feel for what the market is."

David Gjerde, 28, and Charles Gjerde, 26, say the restaurant will feature pizza and pasta dishes for under $10 and seafood and grilled meat and poultry entrees at no more than $20. The wine bar will feature as many as 20 different wines by the glass and the cabaret part of the club will be available for private catered parties.

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