One can only imagine the multitudes of people that once packed themselves into the tiny interior of Cafe Nine on a typical weekend night to see their favorite local artists play.
Those days may be long gone, but the music venue will be reopening its doors to the New Haven community tonight, after two weeks of much-needed renovations, with the hope of reviving its previous glory.
Cafe Nine has had a long history of providing a gathering place for the city’s music lovers. Established as Blue Bar — a typical, Richter’s-like tavern — in 1972, the original owner had incorporated numerous musical acts as part of the bar’s nightly entertainment, and in 1991 the space formally evolved into a music venue. It became Cafe Nine.
The venue quickly developed as a focal point for artists, musicians and performers throughout its tenure on State Street. Today, it still caters to a wide spectrum of music fans from twenty-something indie rockers to middle-aged jazz enthusiasts. Cafe Nine hosts acts representative of the gray area between folk/rockabilly and punk rock/experimental noise. Notable acts that have taken the stage include MGMT, Mates of State, Wolf Parade and Wanda Jackson.
“We’ve always provided a space for people to experiment and to present their original music. There’s not a ton of venues [in Connecticut] that do that,” Paul Mayer, current owner of Cafe Nine, said.
But even in a place as well received as Café Nine, there needed to be some changes. Before the renovation, the cluttered, late-XIXth century interior revealed its seedy beginnings, and the stage only felt improvised, even makeshift. The space was originally built as a tavern with tall, wooden columns and a long bar that ran the full length of the room. The bar left a limited amount of space for viewers and the columns obstructed the view of both listeners and the musicians performing on stage.
After contemplating the idea of renovations for several years, Mayer felt obligated to make the experience of listeners a lot more pleasurable. With construction beginning on Jan. 10, Mayer conducted — hands-on — several structural changes. He shortened the bar to less than half its original size, improving the efficiency of the sound system, and revamped the stage configuration as a measure to improve the once lackluster interaction between performers and their fans.
Although content with the new look, Mayer showed some apprehension about the reactions of Cafe Nine’s frequenters.
“I think there are some people that would say I’ve changed the feel of Cafe Nine by taking out the original bar and taking out the columns,” he said.
However, Mayer stressed that it is certainly in the best interest of his audience that the renovations have gone under way.
Tonight’s reopening will feature a performance by Yale graduate student Lucy Chapin NUR ’13 and her band of friends. But despite the fact that a Yale student will be the first act of a new Cafe Nine, in years past, Yale students have failed to regularly show their face in the venue. Mayer wishes to develop a better relationship with Yalies who may have immediately dismissed the venue, in his words, as “too edgy” or even “too scary” for their liking.
“We just can’t seem to tie in that much to the community at Yale,” Mayer said. “As a neighborhood bar, we have a mix of people that come in. Although, if you sat five minutes and talked to them, you might have a new friend.”
Make new friends; break stereotypes. Enjoy the new Cafe Nine.