Bogart’s, the never-so-clean music venue that sits along the construction-ridden stretch of pavement known as Short Vine, goes back far beyond any concert you may have seen there in the past several decades. It holds a rich history dating back more than a century, although this isn’t so easily apparent now.
Live Nation, a national live-events company that promotes acts and operates a large list of venues around the country, took over Bogart’s in 1999 in a deal with Nederlander Entertainment, who was operating the venue at the time.
One of the myriad changes they have made over the years has been a revamp of the old website, molding it to the standard format they use for all their venues, which in a way deemphasizes the historical significance of the place. I’d think the wrinkled timeline of the building might be a point of interest, but I suppose concert-goers are more concerned with getting tickets to collectively bob heads in a loud room than the age-old energy of that very room.
Here’s what you may not know about Bogart’s.
Bogart’s hasn’t always been Bogart’s. Built in 1890, it was originally called the Nordland Plaza Nickelodeon and, fitting with popular entertainment of the period, it was a vaudeville theater.
Imagine this: lights illuminate figures flying through the air, turning and twisting as they clutch their trapeze over the small stage. They complete a routine and the room is filled with a crowd-hushing roar, followed by the entrance of a ringmaster rearing a lion up to full height right in front of your eyes. He leads it in circles, keeping it calm and cool, before leading it back offstage to allow a magician to come out, accompanied side-stage by two comedic cross-gender impersonators, hooting and howling as the illusionist pulls a hair out of his hat or cuts a man in half. The show ends with a small orchestra playinga classical piece to guide three dancers across the platform.
This was “vaudeville,” fringe American entertainment named after the creation of Sargent’s Great Vaudeville Company in Louisville. It’s fascinating to wonder what wild things we could have seen at the Nordland Plaza in the early 20th century.
As technology developed, folks apparently grew less accustomed to leaving their houses for public, live entertainment, and TV took over the world of entertaining. The theater succumbed to the competition from the television industry and transformed into a German film theater in the mid-1950s under the same name.
Some time later it reverted back to live entertainment, becoming a restaurant theater with the new name Inner Circle. This nightclub was far from the talk of the town, slowly spiraling into failure until a man named Al Porkolab and two partners bought the building.
They named it Bogart’s, which was short for Bogart’s Café Americain, a reference to the movie Casablanca, apparently one of Pokolab’s favorites. In its earliest days it followed the movie as a theme, decorating with tropical trees and offering food with the ambiance of tuxedoed servers and a lounge band. The venue only sat a few hundred people at this point, and the restaurant-club followed Inner Circle down a fissure to failure in just months.
At this point Porkolab took over, buying out his partners and extensively remodeling the building, turning it into a nightclub that featured local, national and international music acts. It opened as such in 1982.
It remained open in this state, still housing only several hundred people, for a decade. During that time it garnered a little heat, specifically from Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken in 1985, who wanted the place shut down due to the neighborhood havoc that would ensue after the late-night dance parties the club would host from 2-6 a.m. on Sundays.
The building underwent another round of renovations in 1993 that turned the few hundred seats into 1,500, the current capacity of the venue. With the larger volume, the venue began bringing in acts that were too big for a small bar or club but wouldn’t get booked by a big-time venue.
Many bands you know now that would sell out a huge venue played Bogart’s in their proving days. To name a few, acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phish, Slayer and Pearl Jam (who, as a matter of fact, is coming in October to play US Bank Arena) impressed crowds on that intimate stage.
In ’97, Nederlander took over operations, leading us back to the highly reputed ownership by Live Nation, who according to their short paragraph of history on the site, “continues the tradition of quality live entertainment that has been [the venue's] forte since the building was built.”
Check out the upcoming shows at this old vaudeville hall:
Sept. 11: Taking Back Sunday
Sept. 12: Paul Weller
Sept. 16: August Alsina: Testimony Live
Sept. 19: Nick Carter and Jordan Knight
Sept. 20: Blacklight College Party
Sept. 26: Matisyahu
Go here for Bogart's photos throughout the years.