For some Utah music fans, Bricks — later called In the Venue and Club Sound — was the place to hear acts on the cusp of making it big.
You might have seen Katy Perry play there in 2009, when she was breaking out with “I Kissed a Girl.” Or Janelle Monae in 2011, promoting her first album. Or Neon Trees in 2011, transitioning from the Provo club scene to national fame. Or Twenty One Pilots in 2013, well before the song “Stressed Out” made “Blurryface” a household word.
For members of Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ community, Bricks was something else: a place to be themselves.
“That was home for many, many, many gay kids for a long time,” said state Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, who recalled fondly the Friday nights 15 years ago when the club hosted a weekly dance party and drag queen shows under the label “Club Gossip.”
Soon, it will be gone. The building at 579 W. 200 South that bore the name Bricks, and more recently In the Venue and Club Sound, has been closed for months — and, sometime this fall, will be demolished.
“It’s an interesting and rich corner of our history in our community,” said Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani, “and it’s sad to see it go.”
According to Michael Batt at Gardner Batt, the Salt Lake City real estate group that owns the property, the old club will be demolished this fall. A 65-unit apartment complex, designed by the Midvale-based Architecture Belgique, should be completed by the end of 2021, Batt said.
The demise of Bricks can’t be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed live-music venues nationwide. The application for a demolition permit was filed with the city Feb. 27, before the pandemic hit in March.
Both Ghorbani and Kitchen, a former Salt Lake City councilman, acknowledge that the city needs housing, particularly in and near downtown. Still, they expressed some sadness that the old club will be leveled.
“It occupied such an important part of my early adulthood, for music and dancing and gay night life,” Kitchen said.
Ghorbani said Bricks was “a different experience” than other downtown music venues because of its location. “It had this feeling of being on the edge of town,” she said — across from the Intermodal Hub, where the trains and buses converged, not on the other side of the tracks but right next to them.
“I remember thinking, even though it was off the core of downtown, how incredibly urban it feels,” she said.
Dozens of Utahns responded to a request for comment on Twitter last week, and many listed favorite bands they remember seeing perform in the building. They included Prince, Katy Perry, Twenty One Pilots, Janelle Monae, Black Eyed Peas, Alkaline Trio, Bad Religion, Dashboard Confessional, Flogging Molly, The Used, My Chemical Romance and many more.
From when it opened in the mid-‘90s as Bricks, the venue was usually split in two — one side serving booze, the other designated for under-21 music fans. In 2004, the owner made the split more apparent, renaming the larger auditorium In the Venue, and the smaller one Club Sound.
Kitchen had heard about Bricks as a kid, growing up in the suburbs — his mom had a matchbook from the place from the mid-‘90s. After he came out at 16, in 2005, the “Club Gossip” Fridays were a revelation.
“I began to see how big the queer community was in Salt Lake, and how diverse it was,” Kitchen said. “I remember seeing this vibrant counterculture in Salt Lake City come together.”
Sometimes the missions of the gay dance club side and the concert venue side merged — like in 1995, when the androgynous ′80s icon Boy George made his first Utah appearance there, as a solo act. Other times, the two halves of Bricks created confusion.
Bill Frost, TV columnist for SLUG magazine, said the first time he went to Bricks was in 1998, to see the John Spencer Blues Explosion. Frost recalled that the doorman asked, “Are you here for gay night or the concert?” Frost replied, cheekily, “Do I have to choose right now? The night is young.” Frost said the doorman was not amused.
Hollywood latched on to the club’s gritty vibe. In 1999, filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie shot the opening scene of his directorial debut, the crime thriller “The Way of the Gun,” at the entrance to Bricks. The filmmakers had added, perhaps redundantly, a neon sign that said “Dive Bar.”
In the scene, a woman, played by comedian Sarah Silverman, gets out of line at the club to shout obscenities at two criminals — the movie’s stars, Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro — for sitting on her boyfriend’s parked car. Phillippe’s character takes a swing at her boyfriend, misses, and hits Silverman’s character in the mouth.
That same summer, a real criminal’s life ended at the same entrance, John Dillinger-style. Stan Lee Foster, a Utah State Prison escapee, reportedly liked to go to Bricks — and was in front of the club one night in July when two FBI agents found him. The agents told Foster, who was suspected of committing two armed bank robberies, to raise his hands. When he refused, the FBI said later, one agent started shooting. Foster died in a hospital later that night. The FBI later reported that Foster was unarmed when the agents shot him.
The club usually felt a little disreputable, or “rough around the edges,” as Kitchen put it.
Kitchen recalled once, when he arrived at “Club Gossip” before opening, the lights were on — and cockroaches and mice were visible on the floor. Also, he said, “I remember going into the basement once and getting freaked out by all the spiders.”
The restrooms were notorious. “They were not nice,” Ghorbani said diplomatically, adding, “You don’t go to music venues for the quality of the bathrooms.”
Gina Barberi, one-third of the “Radio From Hell” morning program on X96, recalled going to see her son (referred to on air since birth as “Festus”) perform with his band. “I really had to use the restroom, but the bathroom had no door, just wide open and very… let’s just say uninviting,” Barberi said. She zipped home to use the bathroom, and was back in 20 minutes — and “got back to find Festus breaking down equipment. I’d missed the whole set.”
Ghorbani’s most recent memory of In the Venue was from 2017, when her friend Ben Holdaway (who died in 2019) threw a “SLC Crop Top” dance party on the building’s outdoor porch — to raise money for the AIDS/LifeCycle bicycle rally in California.
Holdaway, she said, “had created this little queer dance community that was so vibrant, and it was such a nice gathering of people who were interested in getting down on a summer afternoon.”
Ghorbani said her nostalgia for Bricks, under whatever name, is tied to the current lack of open music venues, because of the pandemic. “It’s hitting particularly hard now, as I’m terrified about what’s going to happen with the future of live music in this extended period of time,” she said.
For Kitchen, the club is another example of how people band together to rebel against the prevailing culture.
“In a place like Utah, where you have such strong [Latter-day Saint] element, it inevitably cultivates a really strong counterculture,” Kitchen said. “I think Bricks really embodied that in many ways.”