On July 20, just four days after adding more shows to its upcoming calendar, the Bunkhouse Saloon announced it had closed. In the days that followed, as Valley bands and music fans lamented the loss of the Downtown venue—and theorized about its cause—the Weekly caught up with the two men we saw there most often.
On its closure: (Talent buyer Mike Henry) It was horribly disappointing. This is something I cared more about than I can say. I moved here for Downtown Project and for Downtown Vegas, but for me the real focus was always Bunkhouse. And having grown closer to the community here, to the artists and the audience, not to mention our staff, to see it end is heartbreaking. Sure, it sucks for me, but I’m incredibly sad for all of us, for everybody who cared about it, for people who’ve been here years and decades longer than me, for people who just found Bunkhouse and for people who hadn’t been there yet. I felt like Bunkhouse was important, and I’m incredibly sorry to see it go.
(GM Michael Stratton) It’s really hard. This was so much a labor of love, a real development project, and when you’re that deeply involved in a project from the get-go it’s obviously really hard. But luckily I think everybody’s gonna be okay. The staff is great, and great people hopefully find other great things. It’s very tough, but I’m also very proud.
On the timing: (Stratton) I don’t think we got a chance to fully spread our wings. We pushed really hard, very quickly, and I think we did a lot of things right.
(Henry) I don’t think DTP or anyone had the expectation that you open something and the next day it’s profitable. Our business model wasn’t just to reopen the Bunkhouse as it was, or to open a more standard new live music venue. We were trying to do something more epic, to bring something in that, from day one, had the programming and the production and the presentation and staffing that would be on par with any great live music venue in the country. And those live music venues we were comparing ourselves to, many of them have them have been there for a decade. So from the beginning, there was an understanding that there was a ramp-up time. There was never an agreement of, “You get X amount of days, weeks, months,” but certainly everybody knew this was gonna take some time to build.
On whether venue owner DTP or operator Corner Bar Management called for significant changes: (Henry) The message that we’d been getting from both sides was that they were confident in what we were doing, that they thought we did a great job, that we should continue to work with the resources we had.
(Stratton) Would I have preferred to make adjustments in order to stay open? Absolutely. If we all collectively said, “Here’s the plan, let’s all figure this out together,” that’s a better choice for me and for my staff.
On attendance: (Henry) What we saw over and over was the same fierce, little core of people. That’s not enough to support us and every other bar and venue Downtown, not yet.
(Stratton) We had hoped we would have a regular dining and drinking crowd outside the programming, but I think that would have come. I think there’s definitely enough people here to sustain what we were doing. Reaching them was the difficulty.
On what Bunkhouse lacked: (Henry) We had a talent buyer, a general manager and a production manager. What’s missing? Marketing.
On programming: (Henry) I tried to program it with a lot of diversity, and of course we would analyze what happened. The hip-hop shows that we put up, a great many of them were financial failures; it doesn’t mean we stopped doing them. Every venue makes a choice, of what is more at the heart of what you’re doing, and indie rock and the stuff you’d see at Coachella or Lollapalooza was certainly our focus, because there’s a model for success there. There’s no logic that I can see that we were programming the wrong offering of music.
On accomplishments: (Stratton) Bob Mould was a wow moment for me. The Bee Master show sticks out. The Punk Rock Bowling outdoor shows were pretty special, having that vision fulfilled, of an outdoor stage on a large level.
(Henry) It was a high-risk, high-reward platform. And in the end, for multiple reasons—be it the location, the timeline, failures to reach a large audience—it has failed. But the big shot also got us a lot of things that people will never forget: Built to Spill twice, Rakim, Bob Mould, Panda Bear, Washed Out …
On the building’s future: (Henry) I think there are conversations going on with potential partners and operators of many kinds. My hope is that live music stays there on some level.
On finding spots for orphaned shows: (Henry) Efforts are ongoing to find them homes. Stay tuned.
On the “contract” with the community: (Henry) There’s a trust that was taken up between DTP and the community when they took on Bunkhouse. … Should people feel disappointed or like that trust was violated? Yeah, I think so; I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all.