Farewell to Alex's

Ashland musicians Monday bemoaned the closing of Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar, noting it was the last large, music-focused, private venue that welcomed top local talent and traveling acts — and had space for dancing.

"They constantly supported us (locals) and made it worthwhile for out-of-town acts to play, by getting them hotels and giving them meals," said guitarist Bob Evoniuk of LEFT and other groups. "When you wanted music, it was always the first place you checked. It's really going to hurt the music scene. There's no other venue willing to do all that."

Singer Karen Lovely seven years ago got her start from Alex's owners, Charles Tobey and Quinn Courtright. But the recession hit the owners hard, and the effects lingered, she said.

"It was an amazing place, a real haven for musicians. He did a lot to keep live music going in the community, with lots of national acts going between Portland and San Francisco. We're all absolutely devastated," she said, adding she hopes someone will step in and reopen the venue.

As to what might replace the spacious and centrally located Alex's, musicians pointed to smaller dinner houses and taverns, including Wild Goose, Caldera, The Playwright, The Lounge and, in Talent, Avalon.

"Most venues in Ashland don't care about live music," said Aaron Reed of the group Buckle Rash. "At Alex's they took care of them. Alex's was the pinnacle. They were selective. People knew you made it if you got a gig there."

"Alex's definitely was the premier gig in Ashland, but local live music isn't something the free market will provide here, unless owners are willing to do a lot of free work," said guitarist Jef Fretwell of the Detractors. "It's a headache to do it. You only get a venue of that caliber when owners really care about it and facilitate it. This is depressing it's not there any more."

The shuttering of Alex's makes life tougher for area musicians, said Greg Frederick of the Rogue Suspects.

"The good news is there are lots of great musicians here, and the bad news is there are lots of great musicians here," said Frederick, adding that rent, not bands, is the big overhead cost for venues.

"Sadly," said soloist Jeff Kloetzel of Medford, "the Ashland music scene is languishing. This shoots a big hole in it. There's nothing on the Plaza now."

Speaking for the customers, Leela Harlem noted, "I am sad to see an Ashland landmark close. It was one of the first restaurants I walked into when I came to town. The couches around the fireplace, the music, the dart games, so many moments shared — and the passing of time with a wide variety of people who joined me there unexpectedly. It will surely be missed."

Mara Owens said, "I still have photos taken by their friendly staff when I celebrated getting engaged there. I introduced Alex's bar, music and dance scene to many new arrivals to Ashland over the years. But only if they bought me free drinks. Where will Mr. and Ms. Santa greet folks after the annual parade and lights?"

Alex's was closed Saturday by the landlord, who took possession of the premises and placed a lien on all equipment. The landlord of the nearly 11,000-square-foot building is listed as Mathew Frey Revocable Trust, with an address in Talent. Tobey and Courtright took over the business 10 years ago from Alex Reid, who opened it in May 1987.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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