Opening a brand-new bar and entertainment space in the middle of a global pandemic is like calling for a fake punt in football, according to Casey Lynch, general manager and co-owner at The Big Dirty, a new music venue in downtown Eugene.
“If it works, you’re a strategic genius,” Lynch says. “If it doesn’t, you’re an idiot. So far, it’s worked out in our favor. It’s like the Roaring ’20s. People want to be out.”
The nearly 300-person capacity venue with a full bar and sandwich menu is centrally located downtown, near what’s commonly called “The Barmuda Triangle.” It fills the Olive Street storefront formerly occupied by Rogue Brewery, which closed in 2014.
Opening the club with some capacity restrictions in late July was a sold-out performance from Australian-born, Portland-based electronic musician ZEKE BEATS. So far the venue has been trying to follow strict COVID guidelines, requiring both masks and temperature checks at the door.
The inside of the venue will surprise those who remember the old Rogue Brewery. Not only is the interior updated and strikingly remodeled with a brand-new stage, the elaborate décor also incorporates repurposed set elements from the music and entertainment portion of the 2017 Eclipse Festival in central Oregon.
That work was done remotely by The Reliquarium, an art installation, fabrication and special event consulting service based in Rhode Island. The look could best be described as a mix of the organic and futuristic with nautical elements and themes of art deco, something like an HG Wells steampunk rave in the wilderness. There’s nothing quite like it in Eugene.
Reliquarium fabrication director Logan Will says that Big Dirty founding partner Matthew Lang saw the stage at the Eclipse Festival and loved the work.
“He was building the branding for his nightclub and venue around the look and feel of the stage we designed years ago,” Will says. “We were flattered and interested. We got more involved in every aspect of the look and feel of the place.”
Reliquarium design director Ivy Ross says, “When we were brought into this, it wasn’t just to open up another venue. This was to try and revolutionize how to design a space around music, and with music in mind.”
Despite their best efforts, COVID has caused issues for the new business. Following the renewal of indoor mask mandates in Oregon, cell phone footage of unmasked patrons in the crowded venue went viral on the internet.
General manager Lynch says the footage was taken out of context, and that the venue is doing its best to keep everyone safe under difficult circumstances, and like many service industry establishments, adequate staffing is an issue.
“We had been implementing temperature checks and masks two weeks before the mandate,” Lynch says. “We saw the writing on the wall and wanted to get in front of it. We’re doing everything we can. We’re going over and above. Our mask budget is higher than our napkin budget at this point. Our hand sanitizer budget is also through the roof. But we can’t be everywhere at once.”
Bookings at the venue have leaned heavily on electronic dance music, but that won’t always be the case, according to Lang. Post-COVID, he says, The Big Dirty will host everything from burlesque to comedy to bluegrass to punk rock.
“We need to appeal to everybody,” Lynch adds. “We want to make sure everyone has a place.”
The Big Dirty is open 4 pm to 2 am Tuesday through Saturday at 844 Olive Street in Eugene. More info at TheBigDirty.live.