Clubhouse Jager Uber Alles?

A true crime post sent in by Stephenhero North Loop correspondent Ciaran Daly:

What’s a scene, exactly? What does it ask from you, and what do you owe it?

These thoughts have been bouncing around my head for the last few days since my last ill-fated visit to Transmission, the weekly 80s/British/indie themed night hosted by local DJ Jake Rudh at Clubhouse Jager on 10th & Washington. Long a favorite of local bands as a hangout night, Transmission landed at Jager about a year back after its last run at the Hexagon Bar. It’s more successful than ever in its new surroundings, regularly packing the house. It’s been a fortuitous match for both venue and DJ–yours truly has been going to Transmission on and off for over 5 years, and it’s morphed from a notoriously uneven night that was either dead or packed, to one that always has a respectable draw.

Clubhouse Jager is a new venue going through the usual growing pains. After several unsuccessful events nights, they recently fired general manager and founding partner Rickert Whyte and replaced him with former bartender and new GM Angie Heitz. By all appearances, Jager and Transmission is a marriage made in heaven. Rudh’s Transmission has long been one of the few local dj nights that supports local acts and regularly plays and promotes their new releases. (On that note, btw, check out Minnie Indie’s new night, Swyndle, Mondays at the Uptown Bar.) Local bands have repaid Jake’s loyalty, recently throwing a benefit at the Fine Line headlined by Tapes ‘n’ Tapes for his fiance Mercedes Gorden, who was badly hurt in the 35w bridge collapse. Turn up at Transmission on any given Wednesday over the last year, swing a stick, and you’d hit members of any number of the local bands on Transmission’s Myspace Page, whose “top friends” reads like a who’s who of local indie rock talent.

But show up over the last 6 months, and you might have witnessed members of those same bands getting attacked.

The aggressors in both instances were members of a tight-knit crew that often show up dressed identically, with very short or shaved hair. Sources identify them as former West Bank skinheads. The first incident took place in October of 2007, when the crew in question showed up at Transmission wearing black suits and red shirts. Dan Larsen of White Light Riot was talking with a woman who had appeared in the company of the half dozen or so men dressed and asked (not unreasonably, given their attire and grooming), “Are those guys Nazis or something?”

It earned him a beating.

One of the men charged, and struck him. When drummer Mark Schwantz ran outside to Jager’s busy enclosed back courtyard to aid his friend, he was hit by another of the men who was waiting by the door, Chris Miller. Rickert Whyte, GM at the time, recalls “I heard about it after the fact. I was for 86ing them, but Angie (current GM Angela Heitz) and Julius (Julius Jaegar de Roma, the owner) vouched for them. A few days later I was let go. No one there has returned my calls or e-mails since.”

He also mentioned that the next two staff members to leave or be forced out due to a sudden lack of hours were both Jewish. When I asked Schwantz about the night in question, he referred me to a member of local band So It Goes, who prefers to remain anonymous. This gentleman had a bizarre experience with owner Jaegar de Roma in July of that year. He introduced himself to the owner of the beautifully appointed new club, only to have the conversation immediately take a bizarre turn as he was interrogated at length on his ancestry. The young man replied he was Icelandic.

“That’s good Aryan stock,” Jaegar de Roma noted approvingly.

A joking reference to his blue eyes earned further such comments on his “race.” Troubled by this conversation, he decided never to return to the venue.Former GM Rickert Whyte corroborates the stories of his mercurial former boss’ “eccentricities.”

“I would sit in that bar while it opened and literally watch him drive people away,” Whyte said. “He would sit down at their table and start talking about the Holocaust and customers would leave and never come back. Eventually I just asked him not to come down to the bar because it was hurting business.”

Jake Nordin, sound man at The Guthrie, reports a similar conversation about politics with Jaeger De La Roma in which an errant comment had him asking “Julius, I have to ask you – do you think the Holocaust actually happened?” After some hemming and hawing, he recalled saying that it was a simple enough question, requiring only a yes or no answer. Nordin recalls hearing something which shocked him: “I think 40 or 50 thousand people died, and that’s terrible, but no I don’t think 6 million.”

He became another of Club Jager’s ex-patrons that night.

In February of 2008, Chris Miller–the backdoor man Jaegar de Roma vouched for in the first attack–would make his presence felt at Jager again. On February 6th, he was passing by a Transmission regular of 7+ years, Allan Kleckner, in the crowded bottleneck leading to Jager’s bathrooms. On several previous occasions, he had elbowed Kleckner, who is Jewish, hard in the back as he passed by. On the third occasion, in front of several witnesses, Kleckner stepped back, and Miller rounded on him, looming over him and glowering down at him with his face perhaps 6 inches away from Kleckner’s. Bizarrely, he asked Kleckner, the smaller man, what his problem was. It was at this point that I stepped between the two, asking Miller his name (he refused to give it), and to calm down, telling him that no one here was going to get in a fight.

Miller proved me wrong by punching me repeatedly in the face.

In the scuffle that ensued I came away with nothing more serious than a goose egg on the back of my skull when I fell and struck the floor. Miller outweighs me by at least 100 lbs, so either the big man can’t hit or I’m very lucky.

Whether the next person he attacks at Jager will be so lucky is anyone’s guess. The reaction of the staff I found particularly telling. Miller, whom multiple witnesses indicated was the aggressor, was allowed to stay and pay his tab. I was hustled out the back. Later, I learned that the cops arrived almost immediately and were told by the bar staff that they were not required. I would have been happy to give a statement, but it was too late–they were gone. I asked for my attacker’s name. It was refused. I asked that he be 86d. GM Angie Heitz told me, “No one will be 86d. No one will go to jail. That’s how I want it.” After multiple requests online indicating a name was needed to file a police report, I was given a name on February 10th, four days later.Jake Rudh contacted me about the incident the next day, expressing his concern. He said he would “give his 2 cents” to the management but that he “just plays the tunes” and could do nothing more. He also confirmed that the people in question had been given a warning by the bar, but would still be let back in, noting “they always bring $ down to the bar.”

What do I think about all of it? In the end, Jager’s a private establishment. They can act as they please. If they continue to let a violent element into their bar, it sends the clear message that those people are more important than their customers feeling safe. That should shake itself out pretty naturally. Jake has a fiancee in ongoing physical therapy with a ton of ongoing medical expenses, so I can understand his not wanting to rock the boat.

But thuggish people have a way of forcing you to make decisions.