But it was the busiest all-ages venue in town, a professionally managed place where young fans could hear punk, metal and emo bands, both local and touring. For them, El Torreon was top-notch.
Apparently, that didn't matter to City Hall. A couple of weeks ago, members of the media got an e-mail that was also posted to Eltorreon.com.
"El Torreon has been advised by the Kansas City Department of Regulated Industries that they will be changing the way they enforce their regulations for permits," it read. "Due to these changes, El Torreon will no longer be able to charge admission at the door and remain in compliance with the new enforcements. We are not being shut down. We are closing temporarily until we can retool the business end of the operation so that we can operate a legal entertainment venue."
It's never surprising when an all-ages venue comes under fire, especially over liquor laws. Regulated Industries wasn't really changing its policies, though. El Torreon did get the proper permits when the owners wanted to sell booze at a show, they got a restaurant/bar catering permit through a restaurant business (Figlio Towers) owned by the family of Abe Haddad, El Torreon's owner. Under this permit, a for-profit business can't charge admission at the event. So if you're selling beer while a band is playing and all you have is a temporary catering permit, then charging admission to the show is illegal, according to a city ordinance (Section 10-125) that is apparently on the books to keep people from circumventing the need for a liquor license.
El Torreon's Web site posed the theory that Regulated Industries' crackdown might have been prompted by a "near riot" at a catered "gigantic show" at the Silo on Main (a building just north of 37th Street). But Judy Hadley, the head of Regulated Industries, said that had nothing to do with El Torreon. "El Torreon has never had a problem with getting a catering permit from Regulated Industries at all," she said.
For his part, Haddad told me, "I really don't feel there's some kind of conspiracy theory or any intentional actions specifically targeted at the operation on 31st and Gillham. I really think that over the last two or three years, the new administration at Liquor Control has just been going over the fine print and tightening up their game in several aspects of what they oversee businesswise in the city."
In any case, El T is closed. The shows that were booked have been diverted to The Granada, the Record Bar and the Grand Emporium, and Haddad and company now have a chance to revamp the joint into a really great, clean venue if that's what they want to do. As in, make it the "radiantly beautiful" ballroom of yore, to quote the Web site.
Booker Metal Mark Mathison would be all for that.
"We could actually get a bigger occupancy, get a different sound system in there, actually have clean bathrooms and a good facility," he says. "It's gonna take some time, and we're shut down for now, but in the long run we're probably gonna be doing better."
In the meantime, Mathison has been in talks with outside promoters such as Up to Eleven and Hunt Industries about renting the building several times a month for shows. There's also an outside entrepreneur who's thinking about buying the upstairs area and turning it into a club. Whatever the case, it looks like the southeast corner of 31st Street and Gillham isn't going to stay quiet for very long.
Until then, it's nice to know that El Torreon wasn't the only game in town. To my knowledge, the Sleeper Cellar, an apartment-building basement on West 39th Terrace, is still doing shows, as is the Anchor in the West Bottoms, which holds punk shows on Sunday afternoons. The Pistol Social Club is taking the summer off but coming back in the fall. And the music's still playing at Main Street Café, now on Rainbow Boulevard in KCK, and at the Black Dog and Groundwerk coffeehouses.
But there's also a brand-new venue that I want everyone to know about.
It's called American Ice or the Icehouse because it's in the huge, old American Ice Building at 3125 Wyandotte, just south of 31st Street near Penn Valley Park. It started hosting all-ages shows, and gigs are now booked pretty much every night for the rest of the summer. According to one of its main operators, Jameson Piedimonte, the building's landlord will help Piedimonte and his partners set up around 20 practice spaces throughout the building to rent to bands.
Piedimonte's main goal, however, is even more novel than that. He wants to record live footage of every band that plays the Icehouse. In fact, the venue falls under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Film Commission, which means they can't have booze, but they won't have liquor laws to worry about. On the side, Piedimonte and his partners, John Matthews and Drew Burasco, also run Hyde Park Recording and the label Beat Oven Records. They've recently worked with the Last of the V8s, Boogan Mod and the Caves and those bands know their shit, too.
So even if El Torreon is beset with trouble, American Ice and its owners' agenda to make it a beehive of local music could benefit the scene beyond its being just another all-ages venue. For a list of its shows, see www.myspace.com/ice housemedia. Let's not let 'em take this one away.