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Bar Life, Salt Lake City

CWMA 2008 @ The Woodshed

There’s a little known fact about The Woodshed. Underneath the floors lies the scariest dirt floor in Utah.

The only property that has been a bar longer in Salt Lake City than The Woodshed is the Alta Club. The difference between the two properties is that he Alta Club has been SLC’s most exclusive club in Utah since 1883 and any of the 12 bars that have been housed at 60 East 800 South are at best a dump. Besides that, they are exactly the same club in both theme and style.

I took over the bar in May of 2007 and immediately got to work remodeling it with a group of friends. The floorboards were rotting out, the roof leaked and the back patio was covered in tumbleweeds. It took over three 20-yard roll off dumpsters to just empty all of the trash out of the bar before we could start the remodel. Some would have seen the bar as the greatest arson insurance fraud available in the valley where I saw a dusty jewel that needed to be polished. One thing was for certain: I was way over my head.

The place needed new plumbing, electrical and structural work. It required all new equipment, paint and furniture. Any thought to The Woodshed being a turnkey instead of a complete teardown was ludicrous. The entire floor behind the bar was ripped out and a new subfloor with tiles were laid out. Without a doubt the hardest thing that I did was run the plumbing to the new 3-compartment sink. Initially, the sink was in the middle of the bar but I wanted it off to the side. In order to do this it required jackhammering out concrete to connect the floor drain with the main sewer line. This meant entering the dirt floored basement at the back of the club and crawl on my back to the front of the bar.

The basement is littered with a century worth of rubble, trash, moisture and every bad part of the Bible. Covered in enough spider webs to cause Indiana Jones to reconsider looking for lost treasure, the basement was a living breathing monster that scared the living shit out of me. To start off, the opening is a slim 18”x24” hole that was at the other end of the club. Dropping into the pit, the floor progressively got tighter with the ceiling until you were forced to shimmy along on your back to do any work. That meant you were hauling your tools over broken dreams and shards of disaster to do any of the simplest plumbing work.

The basement was lined with old wires and pipes that spanned into the pitch darkness. The only lifeline that I had every time I ventured below was a flashlight and the resolve that I needed to get the bar open by the end of the summer. The only thing that stood in my way to getting a liquor license was a health permit and that meant getting the sink up and running. I had already roughed in the drain, I just needed to tie it into the main sewer and we would be done. This meant running 25 feet of pipe in a space that would terrify Pinhead from Hellraiser.

I brought down all of my tools, equipment and started the filthy crawl to the drain. Through the prism of my flashlight, all I could see was throbbing organic masses pulsating away from the light, arachnoids scurrying to safety and these strange albino planets that were growing out of the dirt floor. Working from the main drain to the sink, I ran the pipes and strapped them to the floor joists. I inched along on my back until I finally made it to the floor drain. Because of the limited space, fatigue and the nauseating heat, I could barely move my arms. I became increasingly frustrated and started screaming every curse against God and indoor plumbing with every failed attempt to get the couplings to connect. With dirt falling into my eyes, I finally got the pipes to connect when I involuntarily spit out something. It was a spider.

It had crawled across my face and fell into my mouth. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what type of spider it was because I was too busy yelling hysterically to notice. I spasmed in terror until I regained enough composure to tie down the pipe and get the Hell out of the basement. Vowing never to return to the pit inside of The Woodshed again, I sealed the floor for what I thought was the last time. We got our permits and were able to open at the end of the summer.

I never envisioned The Woodshed as a live music venue but that is what we became. We hosted bands almost every night of the week with karaoke on Sundays. It’s a weird space because the stage is at the very front of the club but I think bands like the intimate space and the free drinks that I provided for them. Live music became my bread and butter with some shows being better than others.

I was excited that City Weekly had selected The Woodshed to host the CW Music Awards 2008. It was going to be in February with the Aye Aye, David Williams and Band of Annuals playing. All great acts and surefire draws. There was a feeling of vindication with hosting the CWMA. I felt like after eight months of promoting live music in Utah that I had arrived. The deal with City Weekly is that I had to give them a bunch of free drinks and the door and I would keep all of the sales from the night. Considering how bad I needed the money, they got off easy with this arrangement.

I didn’t know what to expect for the night but I figured we would be incredibly busy. I double-downed on all of my beer and liquor orders, cleaned the Hell out of the club and made sure the bathrooms were spotless. The night was cold and snowy outside but it felt good inside the bar. Bands started showing up early to set up and their supporters came down to start drinking early.

I never knew what a Hipster was until that night. It never occurred to me that guys wearing skinny jeans, covered in tattoos, chain-smoking Parliament cigarettes, sporting wild facial hair, chugging PBR, outfitted in plaid snap-buttoned shirts were anything other than dorks. Little did I know that they composed a very distinct sub-culture and I had a bar overflowing with them. The back patio was packed with smokers talking about things nobody understood but what did I care, I was pouring a lot of drinks.

Each of the bands was given a 45-minute set. Moments before Aye Aye started their first chords, a panicky woman came to me and told me that the women’s bathroom needed attention. She told me that all of the toilets were overflowing. I calmly grabbed a plunger and went to the women’s bathroom. Overflowing would have been nice. It was a gusher. The water was flowing out of the toilets at such a rate that it could have been the fountains at the Gateway. It was creeping into the main part of the bar and there was no end in sight. I kicked out all of the cocaine users from the bar and turned off the water.

In the blink of an eye, I went from having a fantastic night to a swamp fuck in the bar. It was only 9pm and I needed to save the night. I weighed my options and settled on calling Roto-Rooter. I needed the bathrooms working, I needed the water turned back on and I needed to salvage the night. I could only imagine how expensive it was going to be but I needed it fixed.

The only bright spot that night is that they got there in less than 10-mintues. One of their service trucks was driving by the club and quickly came by for the rescue. He was a burly, middle-aged man who understood what a hipster was less than I did. He quickly surmised that the problem with the toilets was a block in main drain and we needed to get an auger to the clean out. This meant going back to the basement.

I was wearing a shirt and tie. As he went and got the huge motorized snake, I stripped down and fetched flashlights. There was water and hipsters everywhere. In a word, it was a nightmare. He returned and we went into the dark basement. It felt like something out of a movie. The music blasting away above us was muted through the floorboards as we wrestled with the snake. We got to the clean out and tried unscrewing the cap. It was wedged on there. It took a two foot wrench with both of us pushing to loosen the cast iron cap. Rocking back and forth, we finally got it to turn and it shot open in a fountain of used toilet paper and tampons that covered the two of us.

[Pause. Go to the bathroom and throw up for both of us. I am sickened a second time remembering this night.]

He forced the snake down the pipe and cleared out the obstruction. The ooze of the contents of the pipe and the smell of the motor spinning was enough for me to want to kill myself. He scooped out all of the compacted soiled papers and fished out the line. Eureka! It worked.

In 30-minutes, I went from having a great night to being covered in used sanitary napkins, toilet water and poop. My bar was a warzone and I was $300 poorer but as they say, the show went on. Aye Aye, David Williams and Band of Annuals fans were so self-absorbed that I would be surprised if they ever knew that something was wrong.

I took a Silkwood shower in the sink and got back to work. I grinded through the night and last call came exactly when it was supposed to. With the exception of being covered in human filth, it was a great night. All of the bands were excellent and I made a ton of money minus the Roto-Rooter cost and the quart of whiskey it took to forget that night.

The Woodshed is like an old girlfriend. When I was with her, I had nothing nice to say about her. Now that we’ve broken up, I have nothing but the best things to say about her. With that said, The Woodshed is continuing the tradition of hosting the CWMA on the 10th of February with David Williams, The Poorwills and Grey Fiction. I am completely divorced from The Woodshed but I’d like to her that she’s doing well. Be a mensch and go see the show. It’s only $5.

Buy a beer, watch the show and do everybody a favor and don’t flush your tampons. I’m looking at you, ladies.

Ben Raskin bartends now at Keys On Main. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He’s a handsome, hands-on kinda guy that would rather sit around.

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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