The 'Hawk Rises Again
by Cory Perla
Legendary original music venue reopens
About a year and a half ago I went to Mohawk Place for the last time, ever. Then last Friday night I went to Buffalo’s Mohawk Place for the first time, again. After being out of commission for less than two years, the place now belongs to the guy next door, Richard Platt, who’s family has had their eye on it since the last time it was up for sale, in 1990, the year the late Pete Perrone purchased it.
Back when I thought I was stepping foot into Mohawk Place for the last time ever—”The Last Waltz,” January 2013—the scene was feeling lost. Buffalo’s original rock club was dead.
When I walked up to Mohawk Place that night, the sidewalk was overflowing onto the street with fans. I squeezed through the crowd, through the entrance, and toward front of the stage. I don’t remember who was on but I couldn’t see them from the bottlenecked entrance to the dance floor, anyways. I stood between the bar and the sound booth for a while trying to order a beer while fuzzy guitar riffs flew over my head. I didn’t feel like I was there for a concert, it felt more like a wake. After standing at the bottleneck for two sets I turned around and headed toward the door again, exiting through a curtain of cigarette smoke. I crossed Mohawk Street toward the parking garage adjacent to the venue. As I crossed the street I saw Buffalo News music critic Jeff Miers sitting on the concrete sidewalk typing away on a laptop. I imagined him sitting in the same spot over the course of the last decade or two scribbling into a notebook. But here he was with the glow of a laptop screen in his face. So much was changing, yet so much was still the same. I climbed the stairs of the concrete parking garage and opened the door to the top level. A homeless man was there to greet me at the top. He said hello and I walked over to the edge of the garage to overlook Mohawk Place. I’d never seen it from this angle. Everyone was huddled around the food truck parked outside, smoking cigarettes, laughing and chatting. It was like I was looking through a telescope at an entire universe I’d never be able to visit again. At the same time, there was part of me, and probably part most people there that night that believed that Mohawk might return.
Platt, who runs Electric Avenue—the place where people usually ended up after a show at Mohawk Place, which his father has run since 1980—has now resurrected the legendary venue. He acquired the building nearly a year ago and started renovating it in January.
In Donny Kutzbach’s Artvoice piece titled “Farewell, Mohawk Place. We Knew You All Too Well,” Mohawk’s former manager Erik Roesser said of the not yet dead, but decomposing venue: “It needs an overhaul that one of those home design shows would walk away from. It’s sad to see, but when a building is over 100 years old and certain things have been neglected, it comes with the territory.”
Of all of the certain things neglected, the floor was at the top of the list. If Mohawk had hosted a third night of its farewell bash, it is well within the realm of possibilities that one lucky fan would have ended up in the basement after falling through the rotting floorboards.
Astutely, the first thing Platt did after purchasing Mohawk Place was to cut away all of the old floor supports in the basement—many of them originally installed when the building was built in 1896—and replace each with new 16 foot, 150 pound beams.
“It needed to get addressed,” he says. “I couldn’t put my name on this place unless I took care of it. You can park a dumptruck in here now.”
He renovated the space with help from his friends Charlie Robbins and Jeff Martinez of Robbins Repairs. “The floor was the biggest challenge, but Charlie is a genius and we made it work,” says Platt.
Martinez, Robbins’ associate, is also the bassist and vocalist of the band Second Trip, who will play at the Mohawk Place free open house this Thursday along with The CPX, The Albrights, and Ol’ Chili.
“There was a candlelight vigil on closing night. It was one of the most solemn and sad nights I’ve ever seen in this city,” says Martinez. “For people to know that these doors are open again, I think they’re going to be pouring in for that.”
At the same time, Platt knows he’s got a lot to live up to.
“It’s very humbling, but also kind of terrifying. It’s a big room to run but it’s not rocket science, it’s just paying the bills.”
Platt also made a bunch of other changes that are not meant to be noticed, but certainly enhance the experience of attending a concert at Mohawk Place. Those changes include a new sound system, a new air conditioning system, a reinforced stage, a plumbing overhaul (no more leaky pipes hanging over the dance floor) and it’s a hell of a lot cleaner now. Not everything has changed though. The same bar that has been there since the 1970s is still there, phew.
“Saving the bar was the best thing we did,” says Platt.
The big mirror that reads Mohawk Place still hangs above that bar, and all of the autographed photographs still hang on the refinished walls. It smells new, no longer of old beer, although that might not last long.
He has, clearly, kept the name, too. You will not walk into the legendary rock venue under a neon sign that says Club Spectra, or Emission, or some shit like that; it’s Buffalo’s Mohawk Place, a venue with a reputation bigger than any one person.
“This place isn’t about me, it’s about the scene, what’s been here,” says Platt “The beautiful disaster of things that happen when musicians get together.”
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