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Around Hear

Bottoms Up: The Wild West hopes to revive the West Bottoms’ nightlife.


An integral member of several area bands, Mark Southerland often spends his weekends gigging, whether he's touring overseas with the free-bop ensemble Malachy Papers or scratching tape locally with the eight-track revivalists T.J. Dovebelly. But recently, Southerland put down his saxophone to handle heavier equipment. "I spent most of my day power-buffing the floor," Southerland says, describing one not-so-easy Sunday morning. "It's a lot more manly work than you'd think it is."

Southerland's cleaning frenzy isn't a home-improvement binge inspired by a particularly poignant episode of This Old House. He lives upstairs from The Wild West Border Deli and Bar, 1717 West 9th Street, which opens Friday, October 12. Seeing the owners of that establishment painstakingly restore its turn-of-the-century facilities would make any neighbor feel ashamed of his dingy tile. But Southerland has a personal stake in The Wild West's unveiling as well, because he'll be booking the entertainment for this and future weekends. On Friday, Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, appropriate pioneers for uncharted Wild West territory, break in the new bar. The following night, Parlay's rollicking rock promises to put the first few scuffs in the venue's smooth mahogany-toned dance floor.

Southerland has the next few weekends cemented as well: Funk peddlers in his own Chickenhoof take the stage on October 19; bluegrass-circuit fixture and infrequent bar visitor The Wilders makes a special appearance on October 20; Memphis Black and members of T.J. Dovebelly (Southerland included) spin, scratch and produce beats on October 26; and Des Structures Electro, a French outfit Southerland met while on tour, makes its first trip to the area as part of an informal exchange program. Skeptics, noting that Southerland plays a direct role in half of these shows, might surmise he's using his position as The Wild West's music mediator to secure shows for a steady stream of his own projects. He makes no apology for wanting to get his bands into the rotation.

"The groups are good draws, which helps out the people downstairs," he explains, referring to The Wild West's owners, Ann and Mark Sharp. "And it's a beautiful stage with a nice sound system, which makes it a pleasure to play."

The Wild West has more going for it than an aesthetically pleasing stage and favorable acoustics. The bar, partially covered by a restored tin roof, boasts a charming stained-glass centerpiece. The building's I-Beam layout means unimpeded sight lines, with no posts on the floor. And the building's owner, artist Peregrine Honig, crafted a massive papier mache tree that engulfs previously unsightly sewer pipes, painted a mountain-speckled panoramic scene that hovers above the entrance and designed the club's logo, a cowgirl brandishing a martini. (Honig plans to open her Fahrenheit Gallery upstairs from The Wild West in spring 2002.)

Also, as its full formal name spells out, The Wild West is more than just a bar. It's a deli that opens at 10 a.m., dispensing sandwiches, soups and salads to the UPS drivers and West Bottoms workers who frequent the 9th Street drag during daytime hours. This, Southerland reasons, allows the club to connect with potential evening patrons, addressing the challenge presented by the neighborhood's lack of night visitors.

By putting more than music on its menu, The Wild West resembles the downtown-based tavern The Pub more than that venue's well-loved but short-lived sister, Pyro Room. "People called it The Hurricane North," Southerland says of Pyro. "It had a 3 a.m. license (The Wild West closes at 1:30 a.m.), and it was a serious night club. The lion's share of The Wild West's business will come from the deli, and the live music is just the icing on the cake."

Eventually, The Wild West will extend its music schedule to Thursdays, which Southerland envisions being improv nights, though not in the Whose Line Is It, Anyway? tradition. "That would be for any kind of music -- old-school jazz, electronic, noise -- that's largely based on improvisation," Southerland explains. Also down the road, Southerland will invite some mid-range touring acts, ideal for The Wild West's 300-350 capacity, to the club, though he says he'll stick with local draws until the end of the year.

Of course, all of these expectations assume that The Wild West succeeds in drawing decent crowds to the area, a task at which other promising venues have failed. Southerland admits the club's location, largely unknown to pedestrian traffic, presents its biggest obstacle, though The Wild West is only two to five minutes away from The Pub, Spark Bar, Jilly's and other standbys. "We're just down the hill," he points out.

Ironically, The Wild West's previous incarnation enjoyed a prime location on a strip then known as The Miracle Mile for reasons completely unrelated to car sales. During prohibition, booze hounds from dry Kansas flocked to the thirty-odd bars located within a few square blocks of The Wild West's current location. Later, 1717 West Ninth Street housed a bar owned by Pabst; mosaic tile emblazoned with the Blue Ribbon logo provides lasting evidence of that time period. Most recently, Black Angels' Motorcycle Club, a private social club and bar, called the space home.

Between its rabble-rousing clientele and the ravages of age, this venerable building was scarred with chipping paint and sagging from rotting wood. "It was quite a pit," Southerland says. "A few rare people could see all that it could be. Not being in the building-rehab business, I couldn't." But just a few months after the Sharps officially started the renovation project, the bar has not only recaptured its former glory, but added to it. They've built it -- now comes the anxious wait to see if the people will come.

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