News went out last week via press release that Slainte, the small bar on Preble Street in Portland across from the old Portland Public Market building, would be closing at the end of April. It was no surprise. The gnashing of teeth had already begun online — secrets don’t keep in Portland’s music scene.
Why would so many lament a little venue with sightlines that make Fenway Park look wide open? “If we’re talking about actual venues, and not DIY spaces,” says Nick Poulin, frontman for Tall Horse, “I am hard pressed to find another room like it…When we play there, there are people right in front of us and it’s the most exciting thing ever.”
Slainte is a place where a band can cut their teeth. There’s an axiom in the music world that it’s not the number of people at a show that defines its success, but rather how packed the place feels. Putting a mere 20 people into Slainte was not only enough to fill the room, but a hell of a lot of fun.
“Anyone who wanted to be booked at Slainte could,” Poulin adds. “Some people might have had to prove themselves on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, but they said yes to everyone and I think that’s hugely important.”
Owner Ian Farnsworth wanted Slainte be a place for up-and-comers or those just starting out. “There are countless bands who got their start here,” he says, “Dead Man’s Clothes, Anna’s Ghost, even Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. The first place Aly Spaltro ever played was here. We just had a show with Mouth Washington and I was thinking how we were the first place he ever played.”
So why, after eight years, is Slainte closing? “The landlord decided not to renew my lease,” Farnsworth says. Stephen Goodrich, owner of the building, along with the PowerPlay building across the street and a number of other properties locally, “found tenants who would renovate the space and pay a higher rent,” Farnsworth says. Simply put, Slainte couldn’t match the price.
It’s hard not to draw parallels with Ken Bell’s experience at the Big Easy, and a number of local musicians have rallied to the cry of gentrification. It’s true that a new restaurant will be moving into the old Portland Public Market space across the street and that the surrounding neighborhood is rapidly improving. In Slainte’s place will be Arcadia National Bar, a proposed “barcade,” which is (ironically) now in the midst of a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for that renovation.
Maybe in some ways Farnsworth is a victim of his own success. “For the last eight years, I’ve been the only light on the street,” he says. “I’ve been the only place open. But I’ve learned to adjust...and become a destination spot. It’s a place for musicians and artists to hang their work — we’ve done everything, from theater to poetry, to every type of music you can imagine.”
Poulin says he used Slainte’s weekly open mic to get over his own stage fright and find the courage to start a band with other musicians who showed up. Dustin Saucier used the open mic similarly, to build up a stage presence and a unique sound that resulted in the Sad Bastards’ excellent recent EP. It’s fair to wonder what will rise up to take the venue’s place. Farnsworth says he’s out of the nightclub biz for at least a little while.