I’ve had far too much time to think about the Jan. 12 closing of the Mohawk Place, which is a shame because its obituary and the stories that go with it deserve to be cluttered, tipsy, loud and disjointed.
So this is about a building, friends and a man who refused to let them down.
The Mohawk Place opened in 1990 but my introduction came just over a decade ago when my band landed a fill-in slot opening for Jimmer-led legends Bobo as well as Solea, a new band from Garrett Klahn, the singer of Texas Is The Reason. It seems silly now, but we were incredibly nervous. The Mohawk was where real bands played and we were just some college kids hoping to make a dent (read: we stunk). My good friend Steve Carveth and I got somewhat lost driving down the Mohawk Street that winds its way near the harbor rather than the short stretch of blacktop where the actual bar was located (City-planning!). True to form, we sucked, Bobo was loud and the highlight of Solea’s set was the patently-absurd good looks of Garrett Klahn’s girlfriend. Being in rock and roll was, is and often will be cool. That night we were part of the cool.
Mostly, though, that night and many more were about the venue. Even after it expanded with a terrific little back room, the ‘Hawk was about cramped quarters, sweaty rock and a building that looked due to fall on you if the guitars were too loud. The old wood walls, faded press photos in dollar store frames and bizarre collection of yesteryear’s knick-knacks set the tone for gritty, grimy tunes on even grittier, grimier nights. As far as Buffalo’s concerned, it’s the Aud of rock and roll.
The ‘Hawk is where I discovered one of my three desert island bands (Centro-matic) while feasting on meals made for the band by Marty Boratin and Susan Tanner. It’s where I held up makeshift lyrics for a production legend now-departed (Jay Bennett). It’s where I said goodbye to a band of my best friends and a rambunctious period of my life on a night I will never, ever forget (see above right).
For the last few years, the working crew there has sacrificed a lot to keep the Hawk moving. It’s decrepit, an old building cast aside by years of neglect and the passing of time. I’m fortunate enough to count as a good friend, Erik Roesser, as one of the men who kept it alive this long. The bar manager, Erik kept the ship as steady as possible through what felt like regular monthly stories that meant the end of the ‘Hawk. He, like many of the other staffers, missed out on a lot of goings-on in the hope that history, legacy and hope could somehow outlive building codes and common sense. They were and are caretakers of a loved one with a terminal disease. You don’t walk away. You never lose hope until it’s hopeless. I’m so effing proud of Erik, even if he’s the sort of bartender who revelled in laughing at the Billies who thought the ‘Hawk would make them a silly mixed drink and throwing out the unruly kids we once were. I told him to walk away many, many times. He’s taking it to the grave, one of the crustiest crusters to ever captain a doomed vessel. I’m lucky to count him as a friend.
It’s fitting that the ‘Hawk never became a relic. It never became a shell of its former self despite being forced to yield to promoters bringing in the sort of “Fresh Prince” throwback nights and garbage get-rich-quick events. Hey, they helped pay the bills. There were always Grand Champeens and Two Cow Garages; The Hold Steadys and Snapcases; Black Keyses and Cursives. Plurals! Even the venue’s bio bleeds music.
“Mohawk Place is an establishment that stays true to the artist friendly attitude it has always had. Everyone who works here is a local musician and is passionate about the music they love. We celebrate commnunity and diversity. Everyone is welcome.”
The Mohawk Place set the table for bands to play bigger venues. I can remember the handbills for The White Stripes, My Morning Jacket and Pedro The Lion. They all played for a couple hundred at the ‘Hawk before they played for thousands and thousands in giant venues.
I want to remember the ‘Hawk that way in terms of my own life; It was and always will be a place where relationships were forged and memories made that shifted the course of my and thousands of other lives. Many grateful rides home were given and taken. Songs were written and rehearsed upstairs. My pal Matty Wypycha nearly fell asleep in an alley. I started to list folks who contributed to the emotions involved in its closing: Roger Bryan, Andy Vaeth, Colin Roberts, Mark Nosowicz, Nick O’Brien, Jay White, Renee Roberts, Donny Kutzbach, Sollyman, Sick Dude… and I just had to stop. It would encroach 10,000 words.
The building at 47 East Mohawk Street is so monumentally-important that one of my best friends gave nearly a half-dozen years of his life to ensuring its survival over lowlifes, fire codes, squatting bums, a-hole kids and ungrateful jerks.
From one of those a-hole kids to one of his best friends: Thanks, Erik. You sure could open the hell out of a can of PBR.