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The possibilities and pitfalls of reinventing the Pour House

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For the last decade, the balcony of the Pour House Music Hall—the two-story rock club located on Blount Street in the heart of downtown Raleigh—served as a dual refuge: During packed shows, the upper level functioned as a release valve, its black metal railings ringed with attendees jockeying for fleeting sight lines. Further back, less excitable patrons played pool on one of two faded green tables, surrounded by walls bedecked with dilapidated wood paneling.

But that loft is now changing. New owner Adam Lindstaedt began managing the 14-year-old bar in August. He had the walls and floors scrubbed cleaned, replacing the wood with bright orange paint. And for those who come to the bar for bands instead of billiards, he's added a flat-screen TV behind the largely unused upstairs bar. The monitor plays a video feed of what's happening onstage, helping ensure some view of the show to those crowded away from the stage. These renovations are the most immediately visible measures in Lindstaedt's bid to improve the Pour House without overlooking what has made it a success.

"The Pour House is a dive bar. As much as I want to clean it up as much as I can, there's a certain element of it that needs to stay in place," says Lindstaedt, leaning against the timeworn stone of the venue's downstairs bar. After booking bands in San Diego and Chicago, Lindstaedt moved to the Triangle in 2009, hoping to open his own rock club in the area. He assumed operations from bar co-founder Eric Mullen with plans to gradually pay off his predecessor as he begins to recast the venue in his own image.

Now that Lindstaedt has his own room, his ambitions extend beyond the new viewing lounge. He's rebuilt the bar's website and ticketing system, and he hopes to establish a system where each band leaves with an audio and video recording of their set. He's looking to book happy hour shows upstairs, starting with locally based acoustic performers and incorporating touring acts if the events are successful. Plans for Sunday afternoon bluegrass brunches are in the works, while Lindstaedt dreams of adding a second-floor coffee bar to bring in traffic during the day. But he acknowledges that none of this will be possible without high-quality bookings.

"My goal is to bring in top-notch acts regardless of genre. My main focuses of genres are in the Americana, bluegrass world, rock 'n' roll and jam bands to a certain degree—trying to stray away from that a little bit more," he says. "This place has been very jam-heavy in the past, and those shows just aren't necessarily working as well as they used to. Just trying to bring in higher-caliber artists and pairing them with locals and trying to make the situation work out best for both of them."

To bolster that effort, Lindstaedt is reviving a Pour House tradition to boost mid-week attendance. This Wednesday, the Pour House will host its first Mug Night in five years. The weekly event will allow patrons to purchase a 32 oz. mug from the venue for $5; they can refill the mug for the price of a pint. In its heyday, the special brought in about 100 people each night; with the state's expanding beer culture and a built-in crowd of beer lovers eager to feed on the Pour House's 30 taps, he hopes Mug Night will give bands that have not played Raleigh a bigger audience than expected.

"It became a really popular night to bring in new bands to the market," Lindstaedt says. "That's one of my main missions is to bring in new bands to this market that people haven't seen before. That's just the perfect catalyst for it. You're basically giving away half of your beer, but it's a loss-leader day. My main point in doing all this is to bring good music to the community. If I can pay my bills, I'm happy."

One issue standing in the way of Lindstaedt's mission is uncertainty about the Pour House's capacity. On Dec. 21, Raleigh Deputy Fire Marshal Michael T. Furr dropped in on a show headlined by the prog-infused jam band Big Something. He emptied the club, counting heads as people exited. (Furr could not be reached for comment at press time.) Lee Crumpton, Big Something's manager, says the date was booked at the Pour House's usual capacity of 350. After his inspection, the marshal allowed only 142 people to re-enter.

"The band is pretty popular in Raleigh," Crumpton explains, noting that Big Something brought in about 400 people to the Lincoln Theatre earlier in the year. "The band likes that venue. They wanted to play one more show there and really pack it out before they move on to bigger venues. We would have known we would have gone past that cap."

When the Pour House opened 14 years ago, it was initially a sofa bar. At that point, the capacity was set at 142; after being reconfigured as a standing-room concert hall, the capacity was never legally upgraded, though the venue has been allowing more than double that number for a decade. Lindstaedt is confident that the club will be operating at that full capacity in early January.

"It's just something that needs to be fixed," he says. "I'm a very by-the-book type person. When things aren't being done by the book, it makes me very nervous. I want everything to be legal and in place and done correctly, period."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Cleaning the lines."

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