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Musicians adjust to downtime at DeKalb venues

Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 1:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:01 a.m. CDT
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Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com Annabell Castillo, 16, of Sycamore performs during Open Mic Night at Fatty's in DeKalb on Monday, March 24, 2014.

DeKALB – A bevy of musicians take turns displaying their musical stylings during open mic nights at Fatty's in DeKalb.

It's a relatively new gig for them.

Not open mic night, that is, but Fatty's.

Many of them used to play at the House Cafe and Otto's in downtown DeKalb before both businesses went out of commission.

As the House Cafe's new owners prepare the venue for a fresh start and staff at Otto's is swamped with repairs, musicians, fans and fellow downtown DeKalb businesses have noticed the absence of the storied downtown music venues.

“There are so many talented people in this area,” Fatty's open mic night host Marc Hanson said. “They have this gift, and they just want to be able to satisfy that burn to share the music, share the gift.”

The House closed at the end of October for lack of an owner while Otto's closed at the end of January because a burst pipe flooded the building.

Hanson has tried to organize an open mic night at Fatty's Pub and Grille for months. The mix of Otto's and the House Cafe being closed and the end of football season created the perfect moment for Fatty's to get into the open mic night game, he said.

“You have a rare opportunity,” Hanson recalled telling Fatty's owner Jeff Dobie. “You can catch all of these musicians. It's going to be a win for you.”

Hanson said about 20 people turn out to share their musical talents weekly, adding that he thinks a majority of the crowd consists of people who used to frequent the House or Otto's.

Otto's under construction

Otto's has shows scheduled in April, but not for their downtown DeKalb location, 118 E. Lincoln Highway. Instead, bands who were slated for Otto's will play at Kryptonite, a bar in Rockford.

“These shows should be happening in DeKalb,” said Otto's manager Tony Poulos.

It's been two months since Otto closed because a pipe from the building's sprinkler system burst. More than $100,000 have been poured into tearing out floors and walls and making other repairs, Poulos said, which does not include what it will cost to rebuild the inside.

Poulos hopes the business can re-open in six weeks, but even that target seems unlikely because the business has to get permission from the city before rebuilding.

“Nothing is moving as quickly as we would like,” Poulos said. “I don't have a target date, because we've missed all the target dates.”

The strain to reopen Otto's hasn't come just from those inside the club. Surrounding businesses also want to music venue back. Toulos said when the club puts on a show, ticket sales show about 70 percent of show-goers come from 35 miles away or more.

Jax Adamiak, a server at Mediterraneo nextdoor, said customers from Otto's accounted for about 15 percent of business on the night of a show. Otto's would also send the band to the restaurant before a show.

“Business has definitely changed on Thursdays and Fridays,” Adamiak said. “We're still going strong, but I hope somehow they can clean it up.”

The House Cafe under new ownership

Meanwhile, a few blocks east, the sign outside the House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, tells curious passersby the venue is saved – for real this time.

Brian and Alex Fausett, a married couple from Cortland, leased the building earlier this month after a deal with Anthony Solorio and Corey Twombly fell through. The Fausetts originally submitted a bid for the business when it closed in October after they learned former owner Jan Pascolini decided not to renew the lease with the business she owned for six years.

“Alex and I have been patrons of the House Cafe for a long time,” Brian Fausett said. “We want to support the whole community feel and keep the welcoming vibe it had. I think having a place that's all ages is really important to DeKalb.”

The couple hopes to get a liquor license, but has run in to some challenges from the city because the facility allows underage patrons. As they slog through the liquor licensing process, they have started some repairs and painting in hopes of meeting their target opening date.

The venue will still boast an array of music or entertainment seven nights a week, as well as a menu with vegetarian and vegan options. Alex Fausett would like to open in the morning to offer breakfast selections, as well.

While they're slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work facing them, it can't subdue their enthusiasm.

“I'm excited to give people their space back,” Alex Fausett said.

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