Space, Outer Space Rescued

Brian Slattery PhotoLive music for all ages is returning to Space and Outer Space, after a brief intermission.

Mark Nussbaum and Keith Mahler — the intergenerational team that promotes live music at most of New Haven’s top venues like College Street Music Hall — plan to announce Monday that they’re reopening the recently shuttered Outer Space and rechristening it the Space Ballroom, complete with beer, wine, and top acts.

And in the same former industrial complex, two New Haven high-school teachers named Karen Robinson and Chris Scionti have been inside the original Space music performance building preparing to reopen it soon as a renewed performance space of their own.

Both teams follow in the footsteps of previous owner and New Haven arts fixture Steve Rodgers’s vision of supporting local music and creating an all-ages place where young musicians can see live music, cut their teeth, and build a fan base before they’re out of high school.

The plans were in the works shortly after Steve and Jesse Rodgers announced through Facebook on Dec. 21 that “our years of music, local bands, and open mics at The Space have come to a close.

“As a family we are transitioning to a new phase of life, as our children get older and our family focus deepens, we are choosing a new path,” they continued. “The Space will have its last show Friday, December 22nd. Please continue to support The Outer Space as shows are transitioned over-there and most importantly, support local music.” (Rodgers declined a request for an interview for this story.)

Among the shows being transitioned were concerts that Mark Nussbaum had set up. Nussbaum is booking agent at Manic Presents and senior talent buyer at Premier Concerts, which runs the shows at College Street Music Hall. He’d been booking shows at the Outer Space and the ballroom for five years and had acts lined up at the venue into April. “We didn’t want to see it go away,” Nussbaum said. So he and Keith Mahler, investor and promoter at Premier, started talking.

Meanwhile, high-school teachers Robinson and Scionti were visiting the Outer Space on one of its last open nights in December. Robinson had always wanted to try running a place like the Space. And Scionti had always wanted to try opening a brewery. “We were talking at the Outer Space and just looked at each other and thought, ‘this could be our opportunity,” Robinson said.

Fast forward to this week. As of Friday, Nussbaum and Mahler have finalized a lease on the building that housed the Outer Space and the ballroom on Treadwell Street in Hamden. And Robinson and Scionti have a lease on the original Space building.

Nussbaum and Mahler plan to have their two stages reopened on Feb. 2. Robinson and Scionti are shooting for April or May. The end result will be a bar, restaurant, and performance space in the original Space building, and the two stages formerly known as the Outer Space and the ballroom rechristened the Space Ballroom, serving beer and wine.

Between the two now separate business concerns, people under 21 will still be able to see shows, and possibly take the stage themselves.

The New Space Ballroom

Nussbaum and Mahler sprang into action as soon as Rodgers made his announcement in December. “It took us about a week and a half to get a deal worked out with the landlord. But it’s done,” Mahler said.

The newly christened Space Ballroom will be managed by Backstage Hamden, LLC. Mahler will serve as facilities manager. Nussbaum will do the booking.

They have the same arrangement in running College Street Music Hall. The same team also books shows at Cafe Nine, as well as the Palace Theater in Waterbury. Running the Space Ballroom, said Mahler, is just an “operational issue.”

But first they’re planning a renovation of the Space space. Both stages (the smaller stage will be called the Front Room) will get new lighting and sound equipment. The bathrooms will be renovated. The bar will be upgraded. They’ll also build a backstage area and green room “to make touring artists feel at home,” Mahler said. “It’s kind of like we’re going to polish the place,” Nussbaum said.

As is done at Cafe Nine — and not unlike the pattern of booking for the Outer Space — the schedule will likely feature musicians from out of town, supported by local acts. They’ll also do a monthly local showcase. They plan to work with other promoters and with community members. Most of all, they hope to build relationships with a number of bands, as they have with Mates of State, Miracle Legion, and Guided by Voices, the latter two of which enjoyed shows at the ballroom that sold out within a day.

They look forward to being able to book bands at different venues around the New Haven area when they visit on subsequent tours. Headliners at Cafe Nine or the Space Ballroom might find themselves opening for larger national acts at College Street. “We love bouncing bands around and building them up,” Nussbaum said, “getting them different exposures.”

Their soft opening on Friday featured the New Haven-based Goodnight Moonshine with the Let Loose and Roosevelt Dime. A Saturday show with Deerhoof sold out. Their Feb. 2 opening, which will see the new venue in full operation, will feature Model Decoy — a New York-based act fronted by New Haven native Doron Monk Flake — Long Time, and currently active New Haven acts Paul Bryant Hudson and Phat A$tronaut. A string of shows follows immediately, including Why? with Open Mike Eagle and Ceschi and Anonymous, Inc. on Feb. 6; the Low Anthem on Mar. 7; and Built to Spill on Apr. 17.

“This will be the best small club the state’s ever seen,” Mahler said. “If you love College Street, you’ll love the Space Ballroom.”

And most shows at the Space Ballroom will be all ages, “because younger fans are the most eager,” Nussbaum said. It also keeps up the work Rodgers started, as both Nussbaum and Mahler acknowledged. “It was a natural flow,” Mahler said, “and we’re happy to continue the legacy.”

The “Dream Team”

Karen Robinson PhotoMeanwhile, across the parking lot from the new Space Ballroom, Robinson and Scionti are hard at work carrying on their part of Rodgers’s vision. “I grew up in the Space and worked at the Outer Space,” Robinson, 42, said. She lives in Wallingford, but grew up in Hamden. She met Steve and Jon Rodgers in middle school. She moved away for a couple years, and when she came back, Steve had opened the Space. She started hanging out there.

She became a teacher and met Scionti while working at Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS). Scionti still works at ESUMS teaching ninth-grade engineering. Robinson now teaches 11th-grade English at Career High School on Legion Avenue. But she also started working at the Outer Space to supplement her income as a teacher. She began during her summer break, “and it was awesome music and good beer,” she said. “And then I became the official Monday waitress, which was trivia night in the front and then open mic in the ballroom. Trivia always got packed in there.”

She became part of what she calls the Space family, and within that family, news traveled fast. “As soon as the rumor hit that Chris and I were even considering” taking over the original Space spot, “I reached out to just a handful of the Outer Space family, and within 20 minutes, the response was overwhelming — people asking what we needed for help,” Robinson said. “Construction, painting, cleaning, everything. It speaks a lot to what the Outer Space was to people. Regulars, not just employees.”

They developed a plan to serve food, beer, and wine, as the former Outer Space had. “We literally brought the entire kitchen from the Outer Space into the Space,” Robinson said. “We brought over the chairs and tables and all the kitchen equipment and all the memorabilia…. we’re taking everything that’s the Outer Space and bringing it over.” They’re now waiting for the OK from the town of Hamden to proceed with installation, but Robinson isn’t concerned.

“I know that Hamden is on board and kind of champing at the bit,” she said. “They don’t want to see this business go under. It’s been a landmark in Hamden.”

Robinson’s and Scionti’s place will offer a bar and a full kitchen. It’ll book bands on its stage. It’ll keep the Outer Space tradition of a trivia night. And one night a week, “kids under 21 can come and play.” The idea is to open right after school gets out, to give students a place to go, to hang out, to get a bite to eat, and to perform.

They have ideas for happy hours with food and drink specials for teachers, as well as poetry slams for high-school students, which Robinson used to run at the Space when she oversaw a poetry club at ESUMS. The businesses that currently occupy the upstairs offices at the Outer Space building — including a guitar teacher and a recording studio — are all moving across the parking lot to the offices on the upper floor of the original Space building.

And as for the new venue itself, “a couple people from the Outer Space have asked if they can work there. We’ve kind of been putting together a dream team,” Robinson said. “A lot of familiar faces from the Outer Space are going to be transferring over with us.”

Robinson and Scionti haven’t decided on a name yet. They want something that stays true to the original idea, but also acknowledges the change in ownership. “I had always dreamed of doing something like this,” Robinson said. But also, “we’re trying to keep as much of Steve in there as possible.”

Initial Schedule

Nussbaum issued the following release Monday morning, including an initial schedule:

New ownership has taken over the legendary music venue which will be re-opened under the moniker “Space Ballroom.” Previously owned and operated by Steve Rodgers, The Outer Space / Ballroom was recently closed. New management is Backstage Hamden LLC (whose management operate the great bars at College Street Music Hall - New Haven). Manic Presents has been booking and promoting shows in Connecticut for over 15 years and has become exclusive venue promoter and booking agent. The venue will also be available to outside rentals, local showcases, and other community oriented events.

Initial Show Schedule:
2/2 – Model Decoy, Long Time, Paul Bryant Hudson, Phat A$tronaut
2/3 – Brian Posehn (Comedy)
2/6 – WHY?, Open Mike Eagle, Ceschi & Anonymous Inc
2/9 – Mardi Gras Party feat. River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs, Hartford Hot Several
2/11 – Tiny Moving Parts, Mom Jeans, Oso Oso
2/18 – Declan McKenna, Chappell Roan
3/1 – Adrianne Lenker (of Big Thief), Henry Jamison
3/3 – nothing, nowhere., Shinigami, Jay Vee, Lil Lotus
3/7 – The Low Anthem, Mega Bog
3/16 – Coast Modern
3/21 – Movements, Can’t Swim, Super Whatevr, Gleemer
3/23 – Icon For Hire, Makeout
3/28 – Dean Ween Group
3/29 – Squirrel Nut Zippers
4/3 – Sorority Noise, Remo Drive, Jelani Sei, Animal Flag
4/7 – Screaming Females, Thou, +HIRS+
4/11 – Mirah, Secret Drum Band
4/17 – Built to Spill, Rituals Of Mine
4/20 – Acid Mothers Temple, Yoo Doo Right
4/21 – Lydia
5/2 – Sunflower Bean, Dream Wife

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posted by: maricemcneil on January 22, 2018  9:59am

Yay!!  That’s wonderful news!  Please tell me that Stina will be back in the kitchen—we will DEFINITELY be by for dinner often if we can enjoy her awesome creations!!

posted by: badsp0rk on January 22, 2018  12:23pm

Maricemcneil: As far as I know, the kitchen has been entirely gutted with no plans of re-opening for food in the ballroom / outer space. Also, that location will not be open daily - only on days of shows.

posted by: maricemcneil on January 22, 2018  12:29pm

badsp0rk: What about the former Space location, I thought they are planning to have food?

posted by: John Bodnar on January 22, 2018  4:30pm

Hopefully Devine Child can perform there in the future

posted by: KRobs on January 22, 2018  8:18pm

MariceMcNeil: Yes, we will be opening a kitchen in that location (formerly The Space)! We’re thinking in the next few months. There are a lot of amazing and talented (as well as dedicated) people helping us move along quickly. (Thank you!) We’ll keep everyone posted as we progress. Can’t wait for you to come eat, drink, and get groovy with us!