In other venue-related news, Ohio's smoking ban goes into effect
today, meaning all venues in the state are now smoke-free.
Quiet Storm, a local mainstay, unplugs music
BY MANNY THEINER
For five years, the evening ritual at Friendship restaurant The Quiet
Storm has been predictable as clockwork. Patrons are immersed in
conversation or the comforting glow of a laptop, enjoying vegetarian
meals. Then a van pulls up. Road-weary band members load in equipment
and sit down to eat. Around 9 p.m., the homebodies file out and
hipsters stride in, the beer bottles clink, and the milkshake
machine's jarring whir occasionally eclipses a folksinger's passionate
But no more will the Cubano sandwich and the gyro burrito live in
harmony with rock 'n' roll. Earlier this month, The Quiet Storm's Web
site announced that music performances would cease at the end of the
year. The reason? Renovations to three apartments attached to the rear
of the venue.
This end was inevitable, set in motion at the very beginning -- when
Friendship Development Associates purchased the property six years
ago. "The previous owner approached us because he had been on the
nuisance-bar list and wanted to get out," recalls the FDA's current
executive director, Jeffrey Dorsey. Then-director Becky Mingo "was
thinking it could be offices," he says. "The idea was to develop those
three burned-out apartments in the back, which fit our mission of
renovating the kind of places other people wouldn't touch."
In walked Ian Lipsky with a vision of opening a community coffee shop,
which became The Quiet Storm. And because several other local music
venues had closed down, Lipsky offered friends a place to perform.
"Just to be honest to my predecessor, the day we heard Ian was going
to start music, we knew it was good, but it wasn't going to be
permanent," Dorsey explains.
Enter budding caterer Jill MacDowell, who in 2002 shifted The Quiet
Storm's emphasis to restaurant service. As Lipsky's interest waned,
MacDowell's waxed, and in 2005 she bought the business from him
outright. "I created a menu, hired staff and equipped the kitchen,"
MacDowell says. "And since I took over, we've expanded to have
breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and we have more seating."
A longtime music fan (and former editor of the now-defunct In
Pittsburgh), MacDowell renewed Lipsky's commitment to evening
performances, but soon cut back the schedule to mostly weekend events.
"There was a stylistic shift when I took over the booking, because I
had my own taste. Many weeknight shows had poor turnouts," she
explains. The Storm's reputation flourished as indie icons like Ian
MacKaye and Ted Leo packed it. The venue hosted theater and comedy,
hip hop and bellydancing, banjos and punk rock.
All this music proved a loss leader. "There was no legitimate reason
business-wise to continue with music," says MacDowell. "Audiences
weren't buying anything, so we'd be open with no sales from 10 p.m.
on, except for the corkage fee," she says. "We also had a heavy
insurance premium because of having a stage and a dance floor, so
there's another two thousand dollars a year strictly going towards
covering the music. I didn't so much care about making money, though.
I just wanted people to be at the shows for the sake of the bands."
Then, the long-overdue renovation of the back apartments finally went
into overdrive. For MacDowell, the "For Rent" signs were the writing
on the wall. "When they were renovating, the hammer sounded as if it
was right next to me, so it stood to reason that in those apartments,
if there was a rock band playing, it was going to be real loud," says
MacDowell. "I brought the whole thing up, because I didn't want them
to come to me suddenly and say, 'You have to stop the music.'
"I realized that they were renting for quite a bit of money," she says
of the apartments. She cites $650,000 in upgrades by the FDA,
including central air and hardwood floors. "They're not going to
college students who'd be cool with the music. I didn't feel [the FDA]
were going to say to me, 'You were here first, let's just keep doing
MacDowell's plans for the rear of The Quiet Storm include a lounge
area, as she continues to focus on the restaurant's growth. Last week,
MacDowell and her landlords negotiated a new five-year lease. "We see
them as a neighborhood-serving business, and we're trying to give her
the best deal we can," Dorsey assures.
It's ironic that, just after celebrating the Storm's half-decade
anniversary with four days of music in which every band included
current or former QS employees, they'll be terminating the tuneage
with one final bash on Dec. 30. But MacDowell sees the big picture. "I
don't think it's going to hurt us to not have music. Now there are a
lot more East End venues, whereas when Ian started, there weren't.
It's a hard thing to shut the door on, but it's reality, and I'm OK
Visit www.quietstormcoffee.com for a full schedule of the venue's final shows.