I was decked out in designer threads, fancy new kicks, and about a bucket of hair gel when I danced on over to Steynberg Gallery the other day. You gots to look right for the ladies.
Something seemed amiss right off the bat. There was no line at the door and no bouncer, but it ain’t no thing, I thought. The party peeps were probably already inside, and I was about to join the ruckus myself, you know what I’m saying?
- PHOTO BY NICK POWELL
- PARTY ANIMAL : Peter Steynberg strives to bring sophisticated art, music, and poetry to the Central Coast, but he’ll have to remodel his space to continue with business as usual.
I was itching to get down, but inside was even worse. The bartender wouldn’t make a Long Island ice tea; Drake’s latest club banger wasn’t blasting the bass in my face; and there were no scantily clad coeds shaking anything anywhere. Instead, people were casually drinking coffee and chatting away amid an exhibition of fine art, which was weird, because apparently Steynberg Gallery is a nightclub now.
With my night ruined and expectations crushed, I sought out the club owner to complain, but what I discovered was a tale of betrayal, financial calamity, and misunderstanding.*
“I never wanted this to be a nightclub, and it never will be,” said Peter Steynberg. “But we have to do what they say.”
Steynberg had been under the impression that his maximum occupancy was 100, but a separate set of rules applies to music venues. After a well-attended Inga Swearingen concert, City Hall caught word that 87 people had sat peacefully in the gallery enjoying the music. Something had to be done.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF STEYNBERG GALLERY
Despite the fact that he had been holding regular jazz, folk, opera, and classical concerts in the space for about five years without incident, Steynberg suddenly found himself faced with the threat of fines and the demand that he relicense the property as a nightclub, as well as remodeling the bathrooms and parking area to accommodate the handicapped.
It would cost an estimated $100,000 in fees and upgrades for the city to allow more than 50 people to gather in the gallery for a concert. Steynberg decided to take the cheaper route and pay $30,000 to retrofit the building to accommodate up to 49 people.
His business has always been more of a community enhancer than a moneymaker, so even the $30,000 sum will be difficult to acquire. A benefit concert will take place on Nov. 20 at the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre. Inga Swearingen, who kinda sorta got the gallery into its current situation, will perform, and she’ll be joined by Café Musique, one of Steynberg’s favorite bands. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at pacslo.org.
“They’re all incredible musicians. The guitarist is brilliant, and their violinist is probably one of the top 10 in the world,” Steynberg said. “Tons of musicians wanted to join the effort, but it can get so messy. We decided to have only two groups.”
In addition to the concert, Steynberg is hoping to hold a volunteer day sometime in January, during which folks from the community will help out with drywall installation, construction, and clean up, exchanging labor and time for barbecue and beer.
“We’re trying to take something negative and turn it into a positive experience,” Steynberg said. “Everyone is a part of this place, and we want them to feel even more connected.”
* Full disclosure: A lot of that opening bit didn’t happen. It was a joke, an exaggeration to show how odd it is to put Steynberg Gallery in the same category as the Graduate or the Library. Ha! Ha ha!
San Luis Obispo’s hottest new nightclub is Calendar Editor Nick Powell, who can be reached at email@example.com.