Scene and Heard
Founding Partners Split as Sonar Lounge Grows into its New Space
Since opening at its ample downtown space last Oct. 31, Sonar Lounge has bristled with growing pains. Named the "Best New Club in America" by Urb magazine late last year, it has inconsistently filled its Saratoga Street space--and its more than 3,500 square feet spread over two rooms--with paying customers. In an effort to expand the club's philosophy to fill out its larger area, office manager/co-founder/co-owner Lonnie Fisher, veteran Baltimore promoter and DJ, implemented a policy that enables the club to be used for a variety of nightlife events.
"Basically, we decided to move Sonar to a more big-club model where the bar itself is more of a backdrop for other promoters to do nights and to promote whatever their music and theme is," Fisher says. "We were looking at other clubs--primarily Nation [and] Five in D.C., clubs like Twilo in New York City--clubs all over the world do this. We were still thinking of Sonar as a lounge, as the corner bar where we came from. And the vibe of those places is--pretty much any night you go, you know what to expect. Like Red Maple or Good Love Bar, on any night the music might be a little different, the DJs a little different, but you're getting the same product."
The change, however, has caused co-founder L.G. Concannon--aka DJ LoveGrove--to remove himself from the club's operations, announcing his resignation in an Aug. 4 e-mail.
"It was a mature realization that at this point in our careers and lives we wanted two different things," Fisher says of Concannon's departure. "I really wanted to take Sonar where I thought it needed to go, and he really didn't. The lounge mentality is where he really enjoyed himself, and we said, 'You know, if you're not going to have fun, you have too much talent and your résumé is too strong to worry about sticking around. I'm quite happy to take on the business itself, don't do what you don't love.'"
"Lonnie and I were butting heads too much, and it seemed like the most professional and the best thing for our relationship was to take a step back and go in a different direction," Concannon says. "I'm not really comfortable with the policy changes that the club has been going through--a lot of it growing pains, really. And I didn't really see that that was where I wanted to be in the future. I definitely wish I, at least myself, could have stayed in Canton and run the old place and have two different types of venues. I've never really been comfortable in the major-club environment."
Concannon and Fisher, both veteran local dance-music promoters in the '90s with Sonic Soul and Ultraworld, respectively, originally joined forces in 2000 when looking for a location to stage after-hours dance events, a partnership that eventually resulted in Sonar's intimate "mingling-with-rhythm" Canton location, which opened June 30, 2001. And though Concannon has relinquished his management and ownership, he's not leaving with any bad blood.
"Lonnie and I have been friends for years and we still plan on doing business together, but with this particular venture it just made more sense to let one person run it and with one person's vision rather than constantly second-guessing his vision," Concannon says. "And he has the most at stake. I didn't really have a lot of financial stake in the club--I was more labor and blood, sweat, and tears rather than financial. He's got to either succeed or fail on his own terms."
Since implementing his big-club model, Fisher has interspersed Sonar's parcel of already established nights--the drum 'n' bass Blended (Wednesday), Fisher's own Ultraworld (Fridays), and hip-hop/house Knowledge (Saturdays)--with newer events, like Tuesday's swing-dancing and lindy-hopping Savoy and the every other Monday, 18-and-over hip-hop/house A-List. He's still tinkering with different events--a gay night and Reggie Red's string of July Thursday nights are now off the Sonar schedule--but Fisher feels like he's steering the club toward its future.
"Around the July 4 weekend is when I felt we weren't operating with the proper formula," Fisher says. "We were still kind of stuck with the lounge concept as our business model, but at a space that can hold . . . 600 people, trying to do underground dance music four nights a week pulls from the same clientele four nights a week.
"And I just sort of realized that Sonar shouldn't need to be like that," Fisher continues. "We needed to be bringing in different types of people who have their night, and if somebody out there doesn't like that night, then they have to figure out what the right night for them to go is. And again, this is just the big-club model, and that's sort of what we're asking from the public: Find your night."