A new Moose rolls into town


Christy Aumer/The Daily Iowan
The Blue Moose Tap House, formerly the Industry, is ready for business on Wednesday. During a two-week renovation, the bar added a 24-line beer tap at the bar and a stuffed moose, as well as eight televisions.
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When the Blue Moose Taphouse opened in Iowa City, it seemed as if the venue came out of nowhere to replace the Industry. Even longtime talent buyer Doug Roberson, who was booking a few shows at the Industry, was shocked by the quick switch.

“It was literally like, ‘Whoa,’ ” he said. “It was kind of short notice. No one knew what was going on but the owner. The new management did some remodeling and revamping things, got the sign and a few other things lined up, and during Thanksgiving, they had some time to get it done.”

Roberson, who began booking gigs in 1986 at Gabe’s (now known as the Picador), recently started up his own promotion company, Mr. Kicks LLC. He believes the changes were a step in the right direction for the building, which previously housed the Q Bar in addition to the Industry.

Roberson lauded the new owners. “They like music and are enthusiastic,” he said.

At the Blue Moose Taphouse, 211 Iowa Ave., a large wooden sign sits directly above the entry to the now 21-bar, letting passersby know the venue has changed. Patrons will find the wide-open design of the Industry replaced with a smaller bar separated from the main stage by a wall and double-doors painted to show a blue moose holding a foamy beer mug.

To the left of the entryway sits a basketball arcade machine with the words “Full Court Fever” printed on the side in a splash of bright purple, orange, and green neon. On this Saturday night, a young man stands at the machine in a gray hooded jacket and jeans shooting baskets. The 25-year-old — who looks younger than his age suggests — is the new general manager of the Blue Moose Taphouse, Josh Ivey.

“We felt like the building needed a face-lift,” Ivey said. “We wanted to make it more accessible with more of a ‘bar feel.’ I don’t want people to wonder if they can come here and drink without paying $10 at the door.”

Despite the attempt to cater to the everyday bar crowd, Ivey said, he still plans to utilize the main stage — as well as the smaller upstairs stage dubbed “the Blue Room” — to host musical acts. The new manager plans to take a less-is-more approach to booking acts on the main stage. He hopes that by having fewer concerts, each show can receive better promotion and build credibility with the help of Roberson and Des Moines-based First Fleet Concerts.

“The difference between a place such as the Picador or the Mill and [Blue Moose] is size,” Ivey said. “It takes a lot fewer people to fill the room at those places. This downstairs room is a lot bigger, and the bar made this thing huge. At the other venues, a show with 50 to 100 people is fun — here it just feels like an empty warehouse.”

Currently, two bands are set to play the Blue Moose main stage. Indie-pop musician St. Vincent — who has played with Sufjan Stevens and opened for major indie bands Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, and Death Cab for Cutie — will take the stage on Feb. 16, and Breathe Carolina will bring its electronic pop-punk on Feb. 23.

“I think if Josh and Nate can get a bar that’s fairly cool to hang out in to attract customers and then have some live music to make it even more appealing to the music fans, they could be successful,” Roberson said. “It’s a way of looking at it that’s not hipster central or like, ‘You’re not cool enough to go to that show, man.’ You don’t really get that nonsense, either.”

As long as people are willing to take the risks of owning a music venue, Iowa City’s scene will likely persevere. The new managers of the Blue Moose Taphouse can look to businesses such as the 7-year-old Yacht Club (in its second incarnation) or the Mill, established in 1962 (though not in its present location), for examples of successful music ventures.

“At the beginning, we had a hell of a time getting bands,” said Pete McCarthy, the general manager of the Yacht Club. “A lot of times in the music business, bands have these ties to certain places. When we first opened, some bands were like, ‘I only play at Gabe’s or the Mill or the Green Room.’ Well, the Green Room closed, and we picked up where it left off, basically.”

Whether the Blue Moose Taphouse can make a name for itself is of course unknown, but the past has shown people are always willing to seek out a good show.

“If there’s one thing that Gabe’s has proved, [it] was that if you had a band people wanted to see, it could be a cinder-block outhouse, and people would get in line to see it,” Roberson said. “So if you get the right bands that people want to see, it doesn’t matter where they’re at, [people] will go.”

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