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Such was the case with Foster the People, whose Detroit Bar residency in January started with 50 people at the show. "By the fourth week, there were 400 people there and a line out the door!" Michaelis says. Building a relationship with Foster the People at Detroit Bar allowed Reiser to book the band at the Galaxy with a couple of emails—but without the Galaxy, a show at the much-smaller Detroit wouldn't have made the band enough money.
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The breakup with Detroit Bar hasn't been easy. Dan Bradley, Detroit Bar's co-owner, says the only inkling he ever had that Reiser wanted to expand was in 2008, when the Galaxy was available. Reiser asked if Bradley would be interested in it. "It was the height of the recession, so I passed. I didn't feel that was a good spot to expand and cultivate the music scene," Bradley says. "It didn't seem right at the time."
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Bradley says Reiser didn't tell his Detroit Bar partners he wanted to open a larger venue and was pursuing the Golden Bear or the Galaxy. He told them after the fact, and that was something the Detroit co-owners took issue with. "I think having an additional indie-rock venue is going to be great for Orange County," Bradley says now. "I wasn't suspecting it to be direct competition at the time . . . but that's okay. There's plenty of opportunity to go around, and we wish him the best of luck."
That's a much more diplomatic take than that of Mike Hussey, the new booker for Detroit Bar's Static Fridays. "He basically screwed Detroit over because he left," Hussey says, adding that Reiser betrayed the club by trying to poach all its employees, promoters and talent buyers, and contacts. Hussey has never met Reiser, but in the past year and a half that he's worked at Detroit, "Jon never was hands-on; he was never there."
Reiser shrugs off these claims and says they're not true. Whether they were poached or followed Reiser willingly, it's a fact that ex-Detroit Bar employees now pepper the Galaxy payroll. Dubstep event producers SMOG LA moved their popular Dubtroit night to the Galaxy within a month of Reiser owning it. Independent promoter Jeffrey Shuman of Club Mercy now books bands for the Galaxy instead of for Detroit Bar.
"Part of what made [Dubtroit] such a great experience was working with the Detroit Bar team. When Jon Reiser told us he had sold the Detroit Bar to take on the Galaxy, we knew immediately what was possible," says SMOG owner Drew Best.
Brett Williams, who manages Foster the People and Cold War Kids, has a simple explanation for why relevant bands are playing the Galaxy now: "Because Jon has developed enough good relationships with bookers and agents and bands, and because of what he's already done to that room, bands are going to want to play there. No one wanted to before because there was no culture."
Besides, "those relationships weren't just confined to Detroit relationships," Michaelis says. "The main guy at SMOG, I went to high school with."
Reiser's response to the negativity? "Personally, I just figured if I kept my mouth shut and did what I was already doing, [the talk about me] would work itself out," he says. "I still believe that. But it does get frustrating at times."
He built good relationships from being in the industry—by treating people well, meeting hospitality riders, being good to the bands, he says. But Reiser wants to keep the focus on the Galaxy: "I'm really passionate about this, and I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. . . . But I love Detroit Bar and wish them well."
Last September, I photographed Jamaican reggae and dub icon Lee "Scratch" Perry's concert at the Galaxy. It was a show booked prior to Reiser taking over (part of the sales agreement was all the previously booked shows would be honored by the new management), and although renovations were clearly in progress (the walls weren't wood-paneled anymore, and the Constellation Room was in progress), there were still vestiges of the old Galaxy. A waitress shooed me off a table because I didn't want to order anything, the crowd had more middle-aged hippies than hipsters, and the sound was good, but it wasn't the high-tech system Reiser demoed for me.
By October, many things had changed. When experimental electro Canadian band Crystal Castles hit the Galaxy's stage, they performed to a room full to capacity of drunk, dancing, sweaty and smelly hipsters; according to Weekly reviewer Mary Carreon, "It smelled as if I was walking into a 24 Hour Fitness." The duo played on a brand-new $600,000 L-Acoustics Line Array and presented a "blinding light show," although, Carreon said, "as far as the Galaxy goes, better speakers, ventilation and air fresheners might be a good idea for next time!"
The review raised Reiser's hackles; apparently, one thing he does get pretty defensive about is his new baby, and he sent the Weekly a couple of angry/frustrated texts and emails.
"I'm trying my heart out to bring talent to Orange County," he wrote. "I think it is a unique market from LA. It isn't easy to get people to play OC—and I am trying to change that. Why can't we just build a community and do stuff that's cool?"