The Alrosa Villa is a one-of-a-kind place. The years of stories, the smell of stale beer, the Rock-n-Roll reverend, bands large, bands small, and the feeling of the spirit when you walk in the door.
This is the real deal and you know it immediately. As many know, it has been for sale for quite some time and will most likely be gone soon. Not long after learning this news, the idea was proposed to ask people about what made it so monumental and what The Alrosa meant to them personally.
Artists, fans, and crew members alike took a little bit of their time to leave a testimony, but quite frankly (after almost 20 interviews) I feel we barely scratched the surface. Bands have gone on to sign record deals, staff have gone on to work with some of the biggest bands in the world, and fans have made memories that will last a lifetime.
The venue opened in the 1970s as an expansion to the Pandora Lounge nearby. It was much smaller originally, and its main clientele were workers from nearby beer distributors coming in after their shift. At some point Rick Cautela was convinced by The Godz frontman Eric Moore to have the band play for the patrons. Rick agreed on the premise that he had to pack the house.
Pack the house they did, and Eric pressed Rick that he should expand the bar and turn it into a rock club. The details of this conversation were not easy to find, but clearly Moore was persuasive. For the next 40 years, The Alrosa would hold shows of both local and national magnitude for several generations of music fans, earning quite the reputation.
Below are some of the questions I asked those who wanted to give testimonies on The Alrosa Villa’s legacy.
MIMC: How did you initially discover The Alrosa Villa and in what way did you become a part of it?
Jason “Attaboy” Stalter, Chief lighting tech for the likes of AC/DC, Guns-N-Roses, and Roger Waters.
“I started there in ’93. As soon as I graduated, I knew I wanted to work with bands. I pretty much had to join the circus. At the time I wanted to work in sound. I really wanted to do live stuff. Friends of mine were saying ‘oh you gotta go to the Alrosa’ and I went up there and met the sound guy, Laverne Reese. He had been there awhile. I’m telling him what I wanna do and Rick Cautela overhears me and Rick, loving free labor hahaha says ‘Hey we can’t pay you anything but if you wanna come learn.’
“My first show ended up being Quiet Riot. I think it was June 26th of ’93. I made ten dollars loading and unloading the trailer that day and another ten bucks running the spotlight. Of course, I’m thinking this is awesome. I thought working The Alrosa’s lights was just the coolest thing ever. So, I would be up there every day from Thursday through Sunday.”
Anna O Brian, Author of Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian: A Rock N’ Roll Memoir.
“Yeah, thats kinda where I cut my teeth. It started with a natural love for Rock-n-Roll. I went to Westerville South. It, of course, had a very ritzy scene, but at the time had a very blue-collar neighborhood (that) I came out of. One of my best friends, Kevin Amici, introduced me to some older friends who were already playing in bands. I could go there and have a good time with people we trusted. Metal heads were marginalized but going there we could feel normal. I loved seeing The Godz, and Shock Tu was a band I loved.”
Chuck Oney , The Vague and Oney
“I first heard of The Alrosa because I was in a cover band, and would come up to Portsmouth and play in 1986. There was this girl who was really into our band and she would come in and give me albums like Stryper and Ratt. She would say you guys need to go to Columbus and play this place called The Alrosa. She kept coming up and saying to check it out. The name did throw me off. Any time we came up to a bar that wasn’t a cool rock name and was just maybe a mom and pop place it was like ‘Okay, let’s just get through this and make our money haha.’
“So, even though she was telling me it was the coolest rock venue ever I wasn’t getting it. Anyways, a year later I started Oney and we couldn’t find any players in our area that we liked. Ya know, it was 1987 so you had to play and you had to look good – have Bon Jovi hair, no mustaches or beards allowed… ya know it was the 80s. It was all about the looks. So, we drove to Columbus and went to this music store. The clerk suggested we go to the Alrosa and see this band called Stiff. So, we hung around Columbus all day and tried to find it but got lost. But eventually we got there, and it was super early like 5 or 6 (p.m.) just hanging out in the parking lot with a fifth of whiskey.”
Merv Roland, The Point
“I got with four guys who were in other bands that had broken up and I don’t know how, but we played once and I somehow got the phone number for Glenn Murphy, the sound man for Money. I didn’t even think he’d call back, but he said “Okay you’re on Saturday (at the Alrosa) and it was Thursday! HAHA! We opened up (that show) and then we ended up opening for them and the Alrosa for like, over a year.”
MIMC: Many venues come and go, and many tend to only bring in a handful of people when they have a show. What makes The Alrosa Villa special? What has given it such longevity?
Rob Johnson, Saddleback Shark and Magnitude 9
“I think it really was the place to play for local bands and even national bands coming. I remember we would play on Sunday nights, and then once we got a little more known we were able to play on Saturday night. By then, the place would be really packed, and we got to open for bands like Dokken and Jackyl. It was a good place for exposure, and also for playin’ original music.
“I think back in the day was different than now; there’s more things to do. There’s the internet and you can see bands on Youtube. We played in the 90s and there were many outlets for bands playing live. And Alrosa was just a fun place to go if you were in a band, or even just to go and meet girls or whatever. There would be hundreds of people there, and I’m sure on a few occasions over a thousand people were there. Sometimes when our band would play, it would just be elbow to elbow getting through the crowd.”
“It was great because local bands could play with national acts and they would treat you like you were just as important as the national acts there. You mostly got pro sound, pro lights. It was up to a draw, though. And for years there would be a radio spot and you would hear your band mentioned. ‘Rick the rock-n-roll reverend!’ and you would be saying to your friends ‘Hey! Did you hear on the Blitz (WRKZ, Columbus), Oney is going to be playing!?’… and you know the internet has taken that all away. It was really cool – you would just go every weekend and it didn’t matter who was playing. You just went.”
Tom Cline, Noise Auction and Cringe
“I think it meant everything to quite a few people. (For) some people, it was their home club or for a way to play those big crowds to get the money to go out and tour. But especially in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was a great music scene here in Columbus. It was the rap-rock era, like the Lincoln Park kind of stuff. It was a fusion. What they were really good about was letting local bands put on big shows. It’s real special to a lot of people. I kind of cut my teeth at that place. Taught me how to be a frontman. It’s kind of like going home. You got to come in there and kind of feel like a rock star. Even though I went to a regular job during the week, It was like on the weekend you were an automatic rock star getting to sign autographs.”
Anna O Brian
“The Alrosa was the place to go. There wasn’t any other place that would let underage kids in to see bands. It was the only place you could go to get a big black X on your hand. Up until the arrival of the flannels, you were seeing a lot of action at the Alrosa, and then mid to late 90s we got all of that nu metal stuff. But I was still seeing Faster Pussycat and Ratt at The Alrosa in the late 90s. (That place) was just not politically correct! You could go into the women’s bathroom and find lines of cocaine on the sink. You could still be raunchy, and it was definitely rock-n-roll. It was a place of refuge for us. Columbus was always a backwater ‘cow-town’, but The Alrosa made it bearable. It was an escape from living in a mid-west white-bread city. It was something bigger.”
Brian Kozicki, owner of Brian Kozicki Audio
“Well, one family, the Cautelas, have owned it for its entire existence and that whole thing was always tight-knit. And they always had a certain type of show they wanted. It was always rock or metal. They were THE rock venue for a really long time. When I was working there, there was a lot of bands just starting out. It’s definitely cool to say I remember doing lights for Shinedown when they only played for ten people.”
“When Alrosa was going, the whole city was going. You had campus dude, you had Apollos, you had Bernies, and I don’t know if there was a whole scene like Columbus. I don’t know why a bunch of people didn’t get signed, like (what happened) in Seattle. Not everybody was shitty. Some of the guys I knew were pretty good! You know it was really fun and I was really lucky that it was my time. It would be just surrounded by a sea of cars and people. It’s just ‘everything was right.’ It was the 80’s. MTV had just happened and glam had happened and chicks fucking loved the glam guys.
“The Alrosa was like a concert hall, not just a bar, so it was like a real rock concert and was packed every weekend. Everything just aligned. It could never happen again. I mean Youtube? Pft records? What do you mean… records? You used to have to sit in your room and listen to a record, or listen to a tape in your car, or watch MTV, and that was it. It was just different. Back then, you walked like a king if you were a musician! We realized we were in a really unique time in history and geography and really took it to the wall. I’m surprised we all lived.”
Nick Engle, Drum Tech for Disturbed
“It was before the Live Nations (concert promoters) of the world took over everything. He was that guy that could get the big shows. There really wasn’t a bad spot in the house. He always made time to help out some of the locals, gave them time to harness their craft. You could work on being on stage. There’s not a lot of places like that anymore. A lot of the crew learned how to make gigs there. I mean, we didn’t always have the best equipment or didn’t always have the best guys. But it taught to you to work to your limitations and (then) work beyond your limitations. It gave you a good work ethic. It definitely has a Roxy sort of vibe. That sunset strip sleazy vibe, ya know? That stale beer smell. Like you know a crazy show happened there the night before!”
MIMC: Of all of the nights you were there and the stories you made in those walls, what stand out as your favorites?
Eric Armstrong, Road manager for The Godz and occasionally the holder of Eric Moore’s hair while he puked…
“I can tell you a funny Alrosa story. The Godz played there and Rick didn’t wanna pay that night. And I don’t know the details, but this was in a time when Rick was in a bad way. Eric Moore went outside and unloaded his .45 (caliber pistol) with armor piercing rounds into the hood of Rick’s car! You could hear the sound of bullets bouncing on the pavement from where they were going all the way through the car. Rumor has it the next day Al called Eric in and apologized to him and Rick went into rehab. That was Eric Moore”
Jason “Attaboy” Stalter
“When the Godz used to pay there, that was always fun. The Godz and Rosie would bring out all the veterans. Eric would always be a trip, encouraging the crowd to smoke wee, handing out free drinks and ordering drinks from the stage. Serious rock star vibes. Oh yea, my first day as a lighting guy, it was also my birthday, I met this cougar and got to go home with her, haha.”
“Yeah! As far as playing there in Oney, we opened up for a few national acts in 91 and 92. We had a roadie friend of ours, Tommy. We were in the restroom after playing and these guys came in and one’s a Vietnam veteran, yellin’ and screamin’. My buddy says ‘Hey man, calm down. You can use the urinal when we’re done.’ And this dude hands us this card and says ‘I’m sorry man, I’m a Vietnam vet’ and his business card explains that he has PTSD. Tommy takes the card, throws it on the ground and says ‘I don’t give a fuck about Vietnam!’ Meanwhile, I’m trying to wash my hands thinking ohhh man.
“This dude grabs Tommy, and as I move towards helping him the other guy grabs me and whispers in my ear ‘Hey man, I just saw your band, and you guys are great. I’d hate to have to kick your ass for jumpin’ on my friend.’ So I just kinda looked at him and figured, ya know he kinda deserved the beating. I have a lot of respect for Vietnam veterans. So then, this veteran, no kidding dude, takes Tommy’s head and sticks it in the toilet. And he starts flushing the toilet. When Tommy comes up for air, he’s yelling ‘Chuck, help me! Help me!’ But this guy meant business and there was nothing I could do. It kinda pained me, but at the same time, dude, he deserved it.
“So after a few dunks, the biker dudes got done. Tommy was wiping his face off and stuff. But then we still had to load our gear out. While we’re getting our stuff ready, all the bikers came around. Most of them were on bikes and there was probably, ehh… 10-15 of them and I didn’t know all of this was goin’ on. Our guys came in and say ‘Hey man, these bikers aren’t letting us out. They wont let us leave.’ So Tommy goes out to apologize. They were all cool and shook hands. And of all the times I played there, that was the most memorable.”
“We had a bit where we said ‘flamingo’ a lot. And one day our drummer had a fuckin’ ten foot flamingo! It was great! There was a pickle bucket in its ass so we could keep beer in it while we were on stage! One night we had it on the front of the stage of The Alrosa and it got too close to the lights and caught fire. Fuckin’ Amazing.”
“Personally, my wife was the runner there. We had dated and split up, but after a show there we had a long talk and decided to give it another shot. Now we have a two-year-old. I remember (laughing) at the end of the night, Rick would be like ‘Here, have a beer’ or whatever, and I was an underage kid at the time. He would tell me stories of the old days. He swears there’s a buried Fiat under the pit.”
“I remember one night we played (there) before we were called Saddleback Shark. We were called The Bomb Squad and we opened for a band called Lord Tracy. And it turns out Lord Tracy has the original singer from Pantera. What was weird, is the same night we were playing with Lord Tracy, Pantera was playing at the Newport Music Hall.
“Not everybody knew who Pantera was yet; Cowboys From Hell had just come out. They were opening for a band called Wrathchild America. Then I remember the guys from Pantera came up to The Alrosa to hang with the Lord Tracy guys. I met the guys from Pantera, but I couldn’t care less, haha, because they weren’t even on MTV yet and just hung out with them. It was cool, because nobody knew who they were. Then a couple months later their video for Cowboys From Hell came out on MTV, and from then on they got huge.”
As the end of the 90’s approached, The Alrosa Villa (and music itself) was going through changes. The nu-metal/Rap metal scene was in full effect at the time, and the long hair and leather was getting harder to come by. The amount of shows decreased and attendance had tapered; at first, only slightly. The venue stayed relevant with local bands like Cringe and their peers, and hosted big up and commerce like Shinedown and Slipknot for some years into the 2000s
The real beginning of the end happened in 2004 with a tragic event that has been beat to death and will not be covered here. After this, a stigma came over the venue. Fewer big bands would come and fewer shows were getting booked, especially compared to the heyday of the 80s and 90s. The generation that fostered its peak were also getting older, and it was no longer a place you just went on the weekend without knowing who was playing. After all many of the bands that would have drawn that demographic there were no longer together.
Along with this, The Alrosa Villa would find itself in a “David against the Goliaths” of Promowest and Live Nation more than ever, competing for bigger touring band bookings, as those companies exploded their footprint nationally in the live music category. Not to mention the rise of the internet, where young people can watch or hear anything they want in seconds at home. There is no waiting for a song to come on the radio or a video to come on MTV. By this time, attendance and average crowd size had begun to go down considerably.
The Alrosa Villa is an epic relic, representing another age in music, culture, Columbus, and of course… Rock-n-Roll. The fact it has remained in this increasingly sanitized but overly brutal world is beyond all of us. The genre that drove the ‘villa went through many changes over its true ride, and the building did in smaller bits, too.
But it was never quite big enough to keep up. Like when Sitting Bull became a part of Bill Cody’s The Wild West Show, the venue fell into a sort of novelty. Its regulars frequented the establishment less and less, had families of their own, and would call it a “special occasion” on the bi-annual trip to their youthful stomping ground. The former; heads, freaks, rockers, rollers, and wanna-be rebels all grew more and more accustomed to this new sterile and straight America, where we try our best to color within the lines at all times, unless we have enough money to deviate.
We carry a false sense of safety through post-patriot act America, but keep the clean, fattening smiles on our faces as long as our property values are still up. The wild and crazy times of real rock stars of both local and international magnitude have passed. Along with them, the rougher edges have been dulled and smoothed over.
Our music and health now will always be relatively okay, as long as there are more machines to cover the flaws and keep our hearts pounding. We fear most music, and especially rock music, as it would make a genuine statement and risk shaking an already sinking ship. Nobody wants to see the kids who just got good enough to escape the garage or the glam band coming off of the high of world tours in the past. It’s all gone corporate.
There is less and less room in the new world for places like The Alrosa Villa. The irony of the frontier and the “wild” west is that its whole purpose was to kill itself. To shed the “wild” portion in favor of “settled” land. After the age of the cowboy, we… on the fringes of the country, attempt to find ways to avoid “settling.” Wars, space programs, and Rock-n-Roll.
The Alrosa Villa is like Rock music itself. It’s dead and it may or may not come back. Who knows? They’ve said “Rock-n-Roll is dead” many times before, ever since Elvis Presley went into the military.
In many ways, this world has become inhospitable to a place like that. But there should always be hope… somewhere.