By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
* * *
Once Reiser saw the Galaxy's interiors, he realized there was so much more they could do with the space. He split up the hulking venue so he had, in essence, two rooms: the Galaxy, which can fit 550 seated, and the Constellation Room, a small venue-within-the-venue that can fit 200. Both stages have state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems—all digital, all touchscreen—created by Rat Sound, the same company that does sound for Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the renovated Fox Theatre Pomona. "I'm the third person in the United States to buy that version of that sound system," he says proudly.
For the most part, opening the Constellation Room was simple math. "You can't book 1,000-person shows seven days a week," Michaelis says, "but you can book 200-person shows seven days a week."
3503 S. Harbor Blvd.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
Category: Music Venues
Region: Santa Ana
The tall, long-haired brunette is wearing long, flowy clothes and horn-rimmed glasses as she walks with Reiser through the theater. Huntington Beach native Michaelis, 26, double majored in Latin American and Eastern European history at USC. The partners show off the building's helipad and say hello to the new chef Brandon Erdo (he has a Mohawk!), who introduced a new menu and will likely spearhead the soon-to-open gastropub.
The blond Reiser (also wearing horn-rims) speaks steadily and is all business. Dressed casually in a plaid shirt and jeans, he's not flashy, not obnoxious and doesn't have the obvious trappings of success you'd expect of a concert-venue owner (save, perhaps, for the tiny Porsche parked out front). He's actually really cute, especially when he can hardly contain his excitement while giving a light and sound demo of the new sound system that "makes hairs stand," or while running his hand over the green-room walls backstage, which have been covered with chalkboard paint so bands can have fun doodling and leaving messages on them.
A self-proclaimed computer nerd, Reiser founded his own consulting firm in the early aughties and worked as an independent contractor installing computer systems for Fortune 500 companies (until last month, when he decided to put all his energy into revitalizing the Galaxy). Until very recently, Reiser co-owned the Detroit Bar with members of the Memphis Group, where he acted as the talent buyer from 2006 to 2011, but that wasn't his first foray into the business. "I spent three years getting approval for what is now Proof Bar," he says. "It was going to be called 215, but by the time we got approval, the area hadn't changed that much, so it didn't make financial sense to do it." At around the same time, some partners at Detroit Bar were selling their shares, so Reiser bought into the business late 2006.
Detroit Bar, which opened in 2001, was a game changer for Orange County's music scene from its inception; both by bringing big names (Elliott Smith, Stereolab) to a Costa Mesa strip-mall club that fit 250 people and by developing residency nights for local bands, it developed prestige and clout. It became a goal for local bands to play there, and it helped develop Orange County as a separate music market from Los Angeles nationally.
Reiser, who says he "fell into" booking acts at Detroit Bar (first by scheduling DJs, then residencies, then finally all seven days of the week), didn't have a music background before working at the club. But as he started arranging more acts to play, he did more research on bands and developed an ear, an instinct for what could do well. "It's really hit-or-miss," he says. "You have to read a lot of blogs, see who's booking national tours months ahead." At the time, he says, there were more DJ nights than nationally touring acts at Detroit Bar. He changed that, and maintained good relationships with agents, bookers, bands, management—relationships that, he says, will bring great acts to the Galaxy.
Detroit Bar is also where Reiser and Michaelis met. "I used to promote events [in OC and LA]," Michaelis says. "He told me, 'You are the most annoyingly efficient person I've ever met—come work for me!' So I did."
At first, Michaelis tended bar at Detroit; she eventually also promoted events and replied to emails. From working together, they became friends, and "we realized we had the same dream," Michaelis says.
That dream? To open a large music venue in Orange County—and then, open more venues in secondary markets: Arizona, Santa Barbara, maybe Sonoma County. "Places where people don't want to drive into the city but it's still a metropolitan area," Michaelis says.
"We'll get [the Galaxy] to where we want it to be first," Reiser says.
In a 2009 radio interview with Press Pass Music, Reiser said, "I absolutely believe we need more venues in OC; I welcome other people trying to open new venues in OC, especially all-ages venues, as there really aren't any established all-ages places in OC." And he kept trying to open a bigger venue, even before the Golden Bear. In 2009, when the Galaxy was vacant for a year due to a failed venture by Hollywood nightlife mogul Anton Posniak (see Vickie Chang's "Less of Mor," Nov. 21, 2008), Reiser says, he almost got the venue—but Gary Folgner beat him to the lease-signing by 24 hours. "Anywhere with a liquor license, we tried to get," Reiser says.