The new venue's music lineup will get quieter for a bit.
After getting off to a promising start over the summer of 2017, the North Street Cabaret in Madison's Eken Park neighborhood has hit a rough patch. Neighbors have been calling the police with noise complaints about some of the venue's louder shows, causing several recent and upcoming events to be moved to other venues and one show to be shut down early.
The intimate, beautifully renovated Cabaret has hosted a variety of entertainment since its soft opening in June, from jazz to metal to comedy. The booking has been a joint effort between manager Al Rasho, Mickey's Tavern booker Liz Granby, and musician Chris Joutras (of Dumb Vision, Dharma Dogs, Coordinated Suicides, and other Madison bands). They've quickly established the venue as a much-needed new space for local artists and touring acts with modest followings.
Tip Top Tavern owner Ben Altschul bought the building, the former home of the Madison Grieg Club, in 2015, and clearly put a great deal of work and money into it before opening the Cabaret. The interior is elegant but not ostentatious—think slightly upscale ski lodge—and the space has a dedicated stage and a sound system that's well-integrated, with speakers attached to some of the exposed wood rafters.
But the renovations apparently haven't created enough of a sound barrier to stop some of the louder events at North Street from bothering the neighbors. Madison Police Department call logs show that neighbors have called police eight times with noise complaints about North Street Cabaret since it opened in June. The most recent ones came on October 27 during a Queer Pressure Halloween party, which resulted in the venue turning the volume down to a neighbor's satisfaction, and on October 30 during a bill of mostly heavy music, which resulted in police asking the bands to wrap up by 10:30 p.m. Since then, a couple of rock-oriented shows have been moved from North Street to Mickey's, and several more events on North Street's calendar are in the process of being moved.
For now, Altschul says, the venue is investing in some new soundproofing and working on getting louder shows moved. So far the Cabaret has only been open on nights when it's hosting performances. Altschul is moving toward having it open daily and putting a greater emphasis on food, though he's loath to call North Street Cabaret a restaurant and wants to keep it centered around music, art, theater, dance, and film.
In an interview on Sunday, Altschul struck a conciliatory tone toward the neighbors who have complained, while acknowledging that the complaints, programming changes, and investments in more soundproofing will put a strain on the business. Altschul feels confident that North Street has succeeded so far in providing a community-driven artistic platform, but admits, "Where we are not succeeding is in how we are impacting the neighborhood around sound."
Dan Olivas, a lieutenant with MPD's North District Patrol, says that most of the complaints have happened at pretty late hours, so officers have been showing up when shows are already done or close to wrapping up. This has made it hard for officers to evaluate how much of a problem the venue's volume really is. Olivas says North Street Cabaret has a proper entertainment license, and does not know of any additional enforcement actions coming from the city. "Nobody's talking about going and yanking the liquor license," he says.
In the long run, Altschul hopes to be able to have louder music again and have enough soundproofing that it doesn't disturb the venue's neighbors. He's optimistic that North Street can strike a balance, pointing to venues like the Barrymore that have a lot of residential neighborhoods but manage to operate without much conflict. Granby, who's been a driving force in making Mickey's an essential local venue, tends to book more abrasive and rock-oriented shows and says she's in the process of moving all her current North Street bookings. "Everyone is feeling pretty sad about the whole thing," Granby says, while reiterating that the venue is committed to being a good neighbor.
Although stressed out by the ordeal, Altschul sees such challenges as inevitable in mixed-use neighborhoods; Eken Park has been a relatively sedate working-class neighborhood for decades, and there were bound to be some growing pains as businesses like the Cabaret, the revamped Tip Top, and Ogden's livened things up. Altschul says he takes responsibility for making sure the neighborhood enjoys a harmonious balance of business and residential life, "not one is greater than the other."