It's my last time at Detroit Bar, and I brought a knife with me. Don't get freaked out; it's only a pocket knife. And the only time it came out was while I was at the urinal, taking a piss.
By 11 p.m., I'm four beers and three bands deep. So it feels only natural–as a music journalist and a fan–to use the call of nature as an excuse to say goodbye to a club that, by the time you read this, will be lost to the wrecking ball of time. Though the destruction isn't about the building coming down as much as it is a new sign going up (good luck to the Wayfarer), the death of Detroit Bar is one that deserves my frail attempt at a memorial. And what the hell, it's not like I'd be the first guy to carve something in the bathroom wall of this place.
I walk into the men's room, as nonchalantly as I have probably a thousand times. In the Lysol-scented, echoey den of scuffed floor tile and band stickers, I prepare myself at the porcelain altar for a moment of silent reflection. Then my blade hits the tile. I'm alone, so my eyes can safely wander.
The first thing I recognize is how many different styles of music are represented among this patchwork of acceptable public desecration–shreds of old posters from Americana crooners, hip-hop tagging, stickers from skate punks and house DJs, the carvings of metalheads.
Over the years, Detroit has been home to artists of all different stripes, all of whom felt as though they had a place they belonged to, a place to start small with the real potential of one day taking on the world. Some of these artists didn't survive two summers in the game, and some are now filling theaters and arenas. That kind of breeding ground doesn't seem to occur in very many places in Orange County anymore, not as it used to. Of course, no truly great club is ever meant to last; it's the stories that become immortal. And since it opened in 2001, Detroit has witnessed a lot of those–too many to even begin listing here.
When I think of the bar's heyday and what owners owners Dan Bradley, Diego Velasco, Scott Hamilton and Jason Husted, as well as former talent buyers Chris Fahey and Jon Reiser, built out of the skeleton of the old Club Mesa, I can't think of anything more Orange County. Positioned in the corner of a Mexican-populated strip mall, its glowing marquee and outdoor patio are the only things that hint this is a club. "Flashy" was never a part of their game plan. But inside, the earthy tones and dimly lit Art Deco, the retro TV sets above the bar, and the backroom pool table made this place instantly palatable to people looking for a mix of low-key and cool.
What started with an inaugural performance by Stereolab bloomed into years of legendary shows (Modest Mouse, Black Francis, Steve Aoki and practically every living member of the Wu-Tang Clan), residencies (Cold War Kids, Foster the People and the Growlers), club nights (Bristol Sessions, Abstract Workshop, Elephunk, Dubtroit, Le Boite Funk and Busy Work), and hundreds of artists and thousands of fans whose names could never fit into one measly print article.
In the years since Detroit dug its roots into the music scene, this unassuming club–even in its recent years of failing health–remained an important OC staple, and when it falls, we'll all hear it and feel it, even if we'd rather not admit to caring that much. Even when something new stands in its place, the memories of what it meant to the scene will always cast their shadows on this corner of Costa Mesa. And before it crosses over into the history books, the desire to carve my way to catharsis compels me to leave one more stamp on the wall before it's time to flush and move on: "Thank you, Detroit."