The East Baltimore building has a storied past: For decades it served as the Belnord Theatre. Then it became a neighborhood grocery store.
Starting last week, it assumed a new identity: the Local High Rise, a new live-music venue geared mostly toward young local pop punk and rock bands.
Clubs such as the Local High Rise are crucial for the development of budding bands. Most of the members are too young to play bars, and pop punk won't fly in most watering holes anyway. Aside from coffeehouses, house parties and St. John's Phoenix, these groups have few options. To that end, the venue serves its purpose well. It's already booked halfway into December, and it hasn't been open a week.
The Local High Rise is not in a beautiful neighborhood. The owners know this, and discourage re-entries. They don't want people standing outside long or constantly strolling in and out. One upside: a decent amount of free parking, courtesy of a park just out front.
Walk past the Local High Rise on the street and you'd never know it was a live-music venue. There isn't even a sign on the building with the club's name. And inside, it's not much fancier.
With its cement floor, brick walls and spacious main area, the Local High Rise has a warehouse vibe. It looks like the new tenants smartly built wood walls along the right side to help close in the main audience space. Then they covered these new walls in graffiti and lined the far right area with odd couches and chairs.
If anything, the venue's main space could use more walls in back to make it smaller still. Right now, it's too big for the kind of bands the owners are booking. The building has about 10,000 square feet. On opening night, which is usually a big draw for new clubs, there were 50 or 60 people there, and it felt deserted.
The Local High Rise doesn't have a liquor license, but that wasn't an issue last week - most of the crowd there looked too young to drink anyway. If patrons got thirsty, they could have bought a $1 Pepsi, Diet Pepsi or bottle of water from a small vending table set up to the left side of the space.
Aside from some echo, the venue has a decent sound system. The person running the soundboard kept the vocals low in the mix for the first couple of bands - but at least the speakers had enough oomph to fill the place.
One of the fliers for the Local High Rise said the club was smoke-free. It wasn't on opening night. But the smokers were spread so far apart you barely noticed. Cigarette smoke was not a problem Friday night, but room temperature was.
If the Local High Rise has a central heating system, it wasn't turned on that night. There were no space heaters either, and there should have been. That place was frigid. I could see my breath at times, and had to run out to my car for a heavier coat halfway through the concert.
With even colder temperatures coming, the new owners are going to have to spend some money on portable heaters.
Since the Local High Rise caters to a younger crowd, the shows start and end early. The Carbon Kin, the first band to play last week, went on shortly after 7 p.m. The band delivered a pretty tight 30-minute set of prog metal, led by a lead singer with an atmospheric falsetto.
The next two bands' music sounded so similar that they kind of blended together. And none of the three groups had much of a stage presence. But that will change with time.
The elevated stage is huge - probably the biggest stage most of these acts will ever play. Cooler still: The drums are on a rotating platform. As one band plays, the drummer for the next band sets his kit up backstage. When it's time for them to go on, they just rotate that section of the stage around.
Some audience members had already left by the time the fourth group took the stage, and I joined them. It was just too cold for live music at that point.
The Local High Rise is off to a solid start. With some space heaters and more marketing, it could be a hit with the suburban teenage set.
The Local High Rise is at 2706 Pulaski Highway. For more information, go to myspace.com/localhighrise or localhighrise.com.