BYOB nightclub opens at Spring Garden and Columbus. It needs community support to stay open.

Mark Marek has opened a BYOB nightclub called Soundgarden Hall at Columbus Boulevard and Spring Garden Street. The club has two levels – one for patrons over 21, who may bring alcohol, but must leave any leftovers behind at the end of the night, and one for those under-age.

Marek, also the managing partner of Rumors at 15th and Sansom Streets, says his new place at the old Club Egypt address is the first BYOB music venue in Philadelphia.  He anticipates bringing in up to 900 under-age and 500 adult patrons for “multi-faceted, high-performance shows,” he said, with a focus on European DJ acts that are all the rage.

To keep the music going and the place open, he needs the support of the Northern Liberties and Old City civic associations.

For starters, Marek needs a special assembly license. This won’t be awarded without the support of the local police captain, and that won’t come without agreements between Marek and the two civic groups, NLNA Zoning Chair Larry Freedman told his committee at a meeting with Marek and attorney Shawn Ward Thursday night. The Department of Licenses and Inspections has already denied the application because, since there are no agreements yet, there is no police support. But Marek has appealed the decision, and the club can operate during the appeal process.

The Thursday meeting was the start of talks aimed at reaching the agreement. Based on the discussion, it is likely to limit hours of operation, require that Marek maintain a certain amount of security and a guaranteed number of inexpensive off-street parking spots, and prohibit him from seeking a liquor license at the site at least until the special assembly license would be up for renewal, two years after issuance.

This would give the community a chance to see how the business runs, and assess whether or not there are any problems. Ward said this track-record period was what First District Councilman Mark Squilla had in mind when he suggested Marek file the appeal and begin operations.

NLNA also wants Marek and his team to be responsible for managing and securing the club even if another group has rented out the facility for an event. Marek and Ward expressed a willingness to incorporate these topics in an agreement. But more meetings are needed before NLNA proposes any specific language.

Marek has also met with Old City Civic, and based on an interview with zoning committee co-chair Joe Schiavo, some of the same issues are OCC concerns.

Marek and Ward talk to the NLNA zoning committee
Marek told the NLNA committee that he has had six shows so far, and there have been no incidents. The under-age crowd and adults are kept separate, with adults upstairs only, he said. Adults must make reservations to get in. They bring their own beverages – which must be unopened – and the club supplies mixers. Guests make their own drinks. Anything not consumed must be left behind at the end of the night.

Philadelphia has the most BYO establishments of any city in the country, with the exception of Chicago, Marek said. The concept is a popular one among restaurant goers, but he said he’s still working on getting the word out about the nightclub. He believes it will be popular because it costs so much less to drink at a BYO. Marek plans to make his money from ticket sales – Live Nation handles that aspect of the business for him.

Some civic concerns are tied to the fact the club does not have a liquor license dictating the night must end at 2 a.m.

Marek said he has closed at 2 a.m., anyway. The under-age and adult crowds are sent out separately, he said, and everybody is out by 2:40 a.m.

During the discussion after the presentation, NLNA zoning members said they were leaning toward requiring under-age patrons to leave at 1 a.m., and 21-and-over patrons to leave at  2.

Old City’s Schiavo said there is a concern that Marek could use the liquor license he has at Rumors to serve alcohol at Soundgarden. This “cloning” of the license could happen about 20 times a year, he said, with alcohol being served at both locations with the same license. Schiavo said the concerns here are also related to hours – would this mean alcohol could be served at Soundgarden, borrowing Rumor’s license, without Soundgarden having to close at 2 a.m.?

PlanPhilly has asked the state liquor control board that question, and will report the answer when we have it. But when asked about this last night, Marek said he does not plan to use the Rumors license this way. He does expect that alcohol will be sold by caterers who hold special events at the facility, however.

NLNA zoning committee discussion
The Soundgarden club has a capacity of about 1,600. Where, Freedman asked, are all of those people going to park? Marek said he has an agreement with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation allowing patrons to park at Festival Pier. When there is no event at Festival Pier, there are more than 1,000 spaces available. When there is an event, there are still 600 available, Marek said. He is certain this is enough parking, especially since some people walk or take public transportation.

Marek said he also plans to send buses out to colleges outside the city to bring students to the club.

The committee wants Marek to always have to ensure available parking – even if the Festival Pier lot is developed in the future. He said there are other lots nearby.  Committee members said during their discussion that affordable parking – of around $5 per car – is also critical. If it costs too much, patrons will park on neighborhood streets instead.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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