Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Moments of the Mohawk

When I think about Mohawk Place, my first thought is of holiday reunions spent amid their annual Joe Strummer Tribute Night, scheduled for the 11th and final time this Saturday night.

My second thought? The hilariously abhorrent condition of their men’s bathroom.

I don’t immediately think about how The White Stripes, My Morning Jacket or Dr. Dog once mounted the Mohawk stage to echo vocals and chords off steel coolers and street signs. I don’t think about the Elvis in Buffalo poster, the hawk-emblazoned mirror or walls covered with local guitar heroes. And, I don’t think about how they may have been the last bar in Buffalo to offer (and actually move) bottles of Old Vienna. I think about their bathroom, with walls and urinals covered in band stickers, floor swimming in spilled or recycled Genny Cream Ale—and a toilet seat covered in duct tape.
But, the state of those facilities has always been oddly complementary to the gritty, leather-clad aura of the Mohawk. It’s always stood as an unkempt rock hole, one focused less on presentation of pristine interiors and more on presentation of Fenders and feedback. If you were there to use the can, you were definitely in the wrong place. If you were there to see Buffalo’s finest musicians, some touring up-and-comers, or a group of your childhood friends cover The Clash’s “Clampdown” as a tribute to Strummer, then you were in the right place.

Sticker-covered wall of Buffalo's Mohawk Place 

If you grew up in or around Buffalo in the nineties, you found your music at Record Theatre or Home of the Hits. You may have followed up that shopping with shows inside Showplace Theater or Nietzsche's before, eventually, a friend’s band—or some band you absolutely needed to see—booked Mohawk. And, once you weaved through its dingy interiors, continued past the odd pile of crumbled, roped-off debris near the bathrooms and found a place atop the raised landing in the front right corner, you fell in love with the joint. Like every great Buffalo dive, it attached itself to you. It felt like yours.
If you’ve stayed local since 1990, you’ve been able to treat it like yours for decades. If you moved away, maybe you visited while home and carried it with you when you left.
After I left Buffalo for Boston in 2000, I spent time in Cambridge venues like T.T The Bear’s Place and the Middle East, watching acts like Ted Leo and the Pharmacists or The Moondoggies. From 2008 to 2011, I tended bar at the Paradise Rock Club, a Boston venue famous for hosting upstarts in the seventies like Tom Petty and AC/DC, and some Irish band in 1980 named U2. Five nights-a-week, I watched bands like the Bouncing Souls, Deer Tick or Dinosaur Jr. tear up the Paradise, churning out ear-bleeding riffs while patrons would move together, belt out lyrics or fist-pump drum beats. At least once per night, I’d smile, take it all in and realize I was employed to sling cans of Pabst and watch electric sets. And, at least once every few nights, I’d look over the same scene, see joy or recognition cascade over shadowed faces and think to myself, “This reminds me of the Mohawk.”
Environments within the Paradise and Mohawk Place are special; these types of venues don’t just open up. They develop like a relationship, with years of memories forming a connection between two entities. Place and patron unite to elicit a sense of genuine contentment, albeit over cans of beer and jangling cacophony. With more shows grows a deeper connection, and with a deeper connection grows a loyalty that’s essential to longevity and reputation. Most major cities have a few places like this, but every city needs at least one. Mohawk’s been one of Buffalo’s best, and now it’s down to its last days.

A farewell message for legions of loyal patrons

When it finally closes its doors in January, it’ll leave behind thousands of moments for thousands of people. It’ll disconnect from the relationship it formed with patrons over cover bands, punk quartets and Canadian frontmen. Many will remember those early, blues-soaked Friday nights with South Buffalo standard Willie Schoellkopf. Others will recall a bourbon-fueled evening with the Felice Brothers or a sweat-drenched show with Snapcase. If you were there for the Hollerado show two weeks ago, maybe you’ll cherish the memory of Kids in the Hall’s Dave Foley, nonchalantly roaming around the joint amid the flashes of iPhone cameras. If these moments are yours, take them with you as another Buffalo backdrop fades into history.
As for me, I’ll stash the vision of the venue’s glorified outhouse. Instead, I’ll lean on other Strummer Tribute Night-related memories, like the scene that flanked me a couple of years ago. As I stood talking to a friend at the bar, a drunken couple next to us began bar-necking so hard they lost their balance and crashed to the floor under the wail of The Clash’s “Safe European Home.” Tattered romance to a few; reckless action to some. Genuine Mohawk to others.
Thanks for the memories.

(Author’s note: This entry was finished while listening to “I’m Not Down” by The Clash.)