The Vogue, over the years 

Owner Steve Ross looks back, looks forward

The band Coal Kitchen played the grand re-opening of The Vogue in 1977, but the show almost didn't happen, says current Vogue owner Steve Ross. The Vogue was undergoing extensive remodeling - and then a last minute snafu nearly canceled the show.

'We were still painting the place just hours before we opened. At the last minute, the fire marshal came in and said, this isn't going to work,' Ross remembers. 'Luckily, my stepfather knew some people downtown and we took care of it.'

The show went on. Over the past quarter-century, the Vogue has hosted events featuring some of the greatest live performers of the era and in the past decade has become one of the city's premier dancing nightspots. It currently employs a staff of around 50 people.

In an era where large corporations control most of the live-music market, the Vogue is one of the few family-run large nightclubs in the city.

The Ross family acquired the Vogue in the mid-1970s, when the theater was put on the market. It had been one of the city's finest movie theaters since its opening in 1938, but by the mid-1970s had declined to the point where it showed porno movies seven days a week.

In fact, when the Vogue stopped showing X-rated flicks, they announced the change by putting the words 'Porn Free' on the marquee.

At the time, the Vogue was one of three nightclubs in Broad Ripple. The Patio, which was purchased by the Vogue in the 1980s, and the Garage, which was located where Wherehouse Music is now, were the others.

From the beginning, the Vogue set out to become the leading performance venue in the city. Back then, groups such as FM Pop, the Faith Band, Roadmaster and Henry Lee Summer filled the house.

The club also experimented with other kinds of shows. Some were successful and some were not. Ross remembers a night of pro wrestling in 1978 featuring Dick the Bruiser that was less than a success.

'The wrestling wasn't contained to the ring,' he says. 'The crowd felt they had to join in, too. It was a wild night.'

One of the most memorable shows for Ross was a Graham Nash/David Crosby show. 'It was magic that night,' he says. 'It sent chills down my spine. And when Crosby got offstage he gave me a thumbs-up. That made me feel great.'

Throughout the '80s, the Vogue remained successful by booking national and local bands. But by the late 1980s, Ross said he was booking 'dinosaur acts' on their way down the spiral. A decision at that time was made to start booking emerging national acts and the Vogue underwent a transformation.

While groups such as the Why Store filled the Vogue during the early and mid-'90s, shifting consumer tastes forced a change in 1995.

'In the mid-1990s, we saw a downturn in local bands. It's not that they weren't out there, but they weren't appealing to the market,' Ross says. 'That's when we began our Wednesday dance club, Retro Rewind, and that's been successful for seven years. In 1998, we switched Friday and Saturday to dance clubs, and we took some heat for that.'

The decision was made only after a long evaluation, Ross says. 'We went to Atlanta and South Beach and we really researched what it would take to make this a state-of-the-art dance club. We put in several hundred thousand dollars into the light system.'

On the last night before the switchover, Ross says he had to endure the taunts of a band member, who took the mic for a 15-minute diatribe against Ross and the Vogue's management.

'That was kind of painful,' Ross says. 'I just had to stand there and take it. Here we were paying this guy, and he stands there and trashes me. But he had a right to his opinion.'

At one time, the Vogue was just about the only venue of its size booking live music. Now it faces competition not only from venues such as the Murat Egyptian Room but also from a number of dance clubs. 'Competition is good because it encourages us to constantly look at what we're doing. The average nightclub stays open for five to seven years, and we've been here for 25 years,' Ross says. 'The thing I take pride in is that we run it as a professional business. We're not in here sloshing down drinks all night.'

Helping Ross book shows at the Vogue and Patio is Matt Schwegman. Staying on top of the music business, and who's hot, is a must, he says. 'The great thing about the Vogue is that, during a given period of time, we can appeal to everyone. We can book a show that brings out Dad and Mom, like Willie Nelson; we can book a band that will bring out the son; and the daughter will show up at one of our dance clubs.'

Booking shows now is more difficult than in the past, when the Vogue didn't have as much competition. But Schwegman says the Vogue makes an extra effort to be artist-friendly and provides little things that competitors may overlook.

The effort has paid off; Willie Nelson played a sold-out show at the Vogue earlier this year. In the past he's played much larger venues.

'I was proud when Willie said, 'Y'all got a nice little beer joint here,'' Ross says. 'It made me feel good.'

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