Suddenly, the music scene in the out-of-the-way industrial park on Treadwell Street that formerly housed The Space, The Outer Space and The Ballroom is back firing on all cylinders again with the opening of The Rough Draft in what used to be The Space building.
The Rough Draft, opened last month by New Haven high school teachers Karen Robinson and Chris Scionti, is just across the parking lot from what now is called the Space Ballroom, which the owners of New Haven’s College Street Music Hall opened in January.
The two venues — both of which rose out of the ashes of former owner Steve Rodgers’ three-venue complex — share an address, 295 Treadwell St., but are separately owned and are quite different.
The Space Ballroom is a showcase club that mostly brings in national and regional acts (with occasional local openers) and is only open on show nights. The Rough Draft, meanwhile, aims to replicate the vibe of The Outer Space, serves food — and, unlike its predecessor, The Space, liquor — and features mostly local performers.
If The Rough Draft seems a lot like The Outer Space — right down to the food served and some of the regulars hanging out — that’s no coincidence.
In fact, all but one of The Rough Draft’s 12 employees, including Robinson, were the employees at The Space, The Outer Space and The Ballroom — and Scionti and Robinson even bought some of The Outer Space’s sound equipment, its sound booth and its tables, chairs and bar stools.
“Last Saturday (June 16) the bar opened and we did have music . ..It was a huge load off us,” said Robinson, who was a waitress at The Outer Space and, by day, teaches at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven.
“I walked in on Thursday and it felt like The Outer Space,” she said.
They had to push back or reschedule a few early gigs because, with both of them doing much of the work to renovate the place themselves — with a lot of help from friends — things took a little longer to complete than they initially expected.
But they finally opened with a night of “Singer Songwriters in the Round,” they said.
“It was such a good vibe — and all the musicians were really good,” said Robinson.
So far, “we’ve had a couple nights of really good crowds,” although “last night there was almost nobody here,” Robinson said on Sunday.
No matter. On Tuesday night, when Stacy Philips’ Bluegrass Characters played their first (other than a June 10 memorial at Cafe Nine) since the Grammy Award winning fiddle and Dobro player’s sudden death on June 5, the place was packed.
The band, which for years had a standing monthly gig at The Outer Space, was glad to be “home,” even if things felt a little out-of-sorts without their leader and namesake.
“I like the vibe very much, although it’s not really a concert venue like The Outer Space was — yet ,” said longtime Phillips collaborator, mandolin player Phil Zimmerman.
At that first gig, things felt a little different because with all the excitement of a new venue, “they want to talk,” Zimmerman said. “I could hear the buzz in back.”
Besides Zimmerman, the Bluesgrass Characters include Andy Bromage on guitar, Pete Kelly on banjo, Rick Brodsky on bass and Sofía Chiarandini on fiddle.
Robinson and Scionti, who also is a teacher at New Haven’s Engineering and Science University Magnet School, located in West Haven, have big plans for The Rough Draft, which hosted a benefit for Connecticut State Police K-9 Foundation on Monday night and will hold its first Trivia Night this Monday night.
The club will offer a rotating schedule on Tuesdays, with the Bluegrass Characters one Tuesday a month and an open mic night one Tuesday a month. It is looking at possibly opening early on Wednesdays to offer an after-school open mic for the under 21 crowd that used to be served by The Space.
It plans to offer a regular schedule of live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and is talking about having a weekend brunch in the near future, Scionti and Robinson said. It will only be open on Sundays when the Space Ballroom has a show, they said.
The physical space has been extensively renovated. The bar now sits where the stage at The Space once was, and the stage has been moved across the room.
It has been decorated with old concert tickets and “rough drafts” of a number of songs embedded in the bar, a host of additional rough drafts hanging on the walls and scenes from a number of children’s books, including “Where The Wild Things Are,” painted elsewhere on the walls.
As they open, Scionti has found himself handling most of the business end while Robinson, who in addition to being his business partner is his significant other, handling mostly the creative end.
On Sunday, their kids were playing upstairs in their office while they worked in the subterranean concert room.
Robinson offered thanks to a bunch of people who have helped them, including Amanda Garrity, who formerly worked at The Space and now does The Rough Draft’s booking (email@example.com), Chad Emerson, who installed all the sound equipment and Matt Signore, who built the bar and the kitchen and is now the new venue’s general manager.
“Everybody, until this week, was working as a volunteer,” said Robinson.