By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When Jayson Wortham and his wife, Memory, opened Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios there in March 1997, they didn't plan to do much with the building. It was supposed to be exactly what the name implies: a place for Denton-area bands to practice. In fact, the reason the Worthams leased the building in the first place was so Jayson and his new band could have a place to rehearse. He had been playing in the band Grenella with Rob Peters--the owner of another club in Denton, the now-defunct Argo--and the band rehearsed at the Argo; when the group was gone, so was his place to practice.
"I wanted to start getting some people together to play, and I didn't have anywhere to play," Jayson Wortham recalls. "So I just started thinking of how there's nowhere around Denton to play, besides for that one storage-unit place or whatever out in Fort Worth. I ended up finding a spot within the next month; probably within three weeks I found that spot. Walked into a Bank One and got a loan to hold the spot. So we started doing that. I never intended to have any shows, you know. It was just going to be a rehearsal space."
After the Argo closed in September 1997, Wortham's original intentions went with it. He and Memory may not have set out to be in the nightclub business, but they were in it just the same, no matter how unprepared they were. ("We didn't have a stage or any sound equipment or anything," Memory Wortham told the Dallas Observer in 1999.) What began as a rescue mission--a few shows here and there to do what they could to help out--abruptly turned into a full calendar. "People started sending things in," Jayson Wortham says. "Probably within four months or so, shows started getting serious."
From the beginning, there were problems with the city--not that anyone was surprised. An ad hoc rock club operating on a bring-your-own-beer policy in a college town full of minors was bound to attract the attention of the local authorities. But the city, for the most part, took it easy on the upstart club. "They were pretty lenient on us having shows outside all the time," Wortham says. He adds, laughing, "I never told them when we were gonna have a show outside."
While the Worthams made minor improvements to Rubber Gloves as the shows increased--building an outdoor stage and upgrading the sound system, for example--they had bigger ideas in mind. Jayson mentioned to Josh Baish that he wanted to open a bar on the premises, but it was the kind of idea you toss around over a few beers. "I had no money whatsoever," Wortham says. "We were barely staying afloat."
Back then, Baish was a bartender at the now-defunct Rick's Place, and he had developed a taste for the bar business during the five years he spent cracking open Shiners and pouring $1 well drinks for University of North Texas fraternity brothers. Baish looked at the old cement factory and the people who were hanging out there and saw nothing but upside. "It was in its infancy, and it just looked like it had a lot of potential," he says. "And the bands that were coming through, I was a fan of already."
With that in mind, in late 1998, Baish and the Worthams made an agreement: If Baish put up the money to get the bar started, he and the couple would be equal partners. So he bought in, using a loan from his father, an advance on the trust fund that he would soon have access to. He might as well have purchased an acre of quicksand and cement shoes.
Baish assumed taking the next step would be as easy as writing that first check. He was 23 then and an idealist with big ideas for the small venue: He not only intended to add a bar, but an art gallery and small movie theater as well. To him, Rubber Gloves would, could and should be more than just a place to get a few beers and see a couple of bands; it could also be somewhat of an indie-rock community center, something to get involved in, to rally around. He believed in Rubber Gloves and knew it wouldn't take much convincing to get everyone else to believe in it, too. The problem was, Baish didn't know whom he'd have to convince or how long it would take.
Still, with Baish's infusion of cash, it seemed as though everything was possible, that every idea he and the Worthams had would become a reality, and soon, too. Baish set out to acquire a liquor license, the first step to the new and improved Rubber Gloves, and they planned to tap their first keg as licensed bar owners just after the holidays.
"But once they found we were trying to get a bar going on, that's when the city really got serious," Wortham says. "They started really coming around and stopping things."
No one realized how serious the city would get. For the next three years, Baish and the Worthams played Simon Says with a variety of building and health inspectors, fire marshals and officials from almost every department on the city payroll. As soon as Baish went to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, he opened the door to scrutiny, and he hasn't found a way to close the door yet, spending so much time at City Hall, most of the secretaries assume he works there. All he wanted to do was open a bar, own a nightclub. He never expected any of this. Maybe he should have.
"As naïve as I was at the start, I went down to the TABC and said, 'Hey, I'd like to buy a license.' And they just laughed at me," Baish says, laughing as well at the memory. "They just thought it was so funny. And that's when they directed me to the city and the fire marshal and the building inspectors, and then I started playing their game. I had no idea it would be any of this. I guess you've got to go through it; you've gotta play their game to do it. But I had no idea."
Rodney Patterson, a building inspector with the city, says he was just doing his job. He's in charge of enforcing Denton's building code, and it's not his place to make exceptions. You're either up to code or you aren't, and there is no gray area. Whether or not he approves of the business is irrelevant. If Patterson doesn't approve of the building your business is in, then it becomes a problem.
"They had a lot of stuff they needed to do when we got involved," Patterson says. "The thing is, they didn't come to us before they leased the building, so they were stuck between a rock and a hard place."
According to Baish, however, Patterson was both the rock and the hard place. Patterson was Rubber Gloves' archnemesis for a time--he hasn't been directly involved with the club for more than a year--The Joker trying to bring Gotham City to its knees.
"We were dealing with this other guy when we were trying to get the bar opened, and Rodney Patterson would come snooping around, sticking his nose in everything," Baish remembers. "And one day, he came down, and he tried to shut us down. I forget what show it was, but it was some show that we had a guarantee on." No show meant Baish and the Worthams would be paying the band what it was owed out of their own pockets, so they went around Patterson, finding a higher-ranking official in the building inspections department who allowed the show to go ahead as planned. "Rodney Patterson finds out about this and he comes by, and he's just livid, because we went behind his back. 'If I say something, I expect you to go along with my decision.'"
Unfortunately, that was merely a bad start to a worse longer-term relationship with Patterson, Baish says. "Evidently, the guy we went to, over that Christmas break, that guy left, so Rodney Patterson took his position," he says. It's not difficult to guess what comes next: "So we were dealing with Rodney Patterson, and he was the higher-up then, and he just made it hell."
Even without the presence of Patterson or any other building inspectors and city officials, it wasn't easy transforming Rubber Gloves from a hollowed-out shell of a building into an up-to-code, fully functioning nightclub. Among other things, the Worthams still lived in the area that was earmarked for the proposed bar's location. The building also didn't have an official parking lot, and there wasn't an inspector around who was going to grant Rubber Gloves the necessary permits to open a bar until the problem was addressed.
Originally, the bar should have been ready to go by the beginning of 1999. Then it was supposed to be in place by Baish's 24th birthday, March 31. That deadline came and went without any progress; since the Worthams hadn't moved out yet, the project remained on hold. Construction finally began in June, but only in baby steps, with the installation of new doorways on the side of the building and at the back of the performance area. At the time, Baish also entered negotiations to buy the building, with the help of Jayson Wortham's mother, a real estate agent; he became the owner of the building later that year.
The Worthams eventually moved off the premises, but there was still a problem. Because Rubber Gloves' calendar had to stay full to accommodate the financial requirements of its owners, construction happened at odd hours and often late into the night. It was an impossible situation: The city told Baish and the Worthams they weren't allowed to host shows without a proper parking lot, but they needed the money from those shows. They also needed time to build the bar and make all of the other improvements required by the city, and they didn't have enough as long as the club stayed open. It was like borrowing from one loan shark to pay another one, and no one was winning.
In August 1999, the city took the decision out of the owners' hands: After threatening to fine Baish and the Worthams if any more shows happened at Rubber Gloves before the parking lot was finished, the trio canceled several weeks of scheduled gigs and shut the doors. It turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise. "The fact that we had to cancel shows until the parking lot was in was a real blow to Memory and Jason financially," Baish said at the time. "But it actually gave us a chance to get a lot of things done, not having to worry about shows and staying late to get things done."
Rubber Gloves reopened in September 1999, and Baish set a more "realistic time frame" for the bar's official opening: October 30. He was almost right; the bar did open in October, except it was one year later.
Construction was completed on time, but that only meant the club was ready for the inspectors to decide if it was good enough. The next year was spent keeping everyone happy: This inspector would tell them to do that, that inspector said they had to do this, and more often than not, they contradicted each other. Every department had a different set of codes it adhered to, and by the time they were finished with him, Baish's patience had disappeared under a mountain of paperwork and an endless parade of inspectors.
"They just come and go," Baish says. "You know, you're calling for one guy, and he's not there anymore, it's this guy. Then this guy gets transferred to this department."
Even after the city was satisfied with the condition of the club, the bar still was not allowed to open. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations required Rubber Gloves to post a sign two months before it planned on opening the bar, informing the general public of its intention to start selling alcoholic beverages. Baish knew about the sign early on--he was informed of the requirement in January 2000--but the company in charge of filing Rubber Gloves' application for a liquor license told him that such a sign was unnecessary. By the time Baish found out the sign was needed, the opening date had to be postponed. Again.
Once the sign was secured and in place for the required two months, Rubber Gloves' bar finally opened on October 5, with a show featuring Chicago's Joan of Arc and local band [DARYL]. By that time, though, Baish and the Worthams were no longer the co-owners of Rubber Gloves. "Josh started realizing that there's not going to be any money made splitting it up," Jayson Wortham says, "so he wanted to buy me out."
"As the months went on and we were dealing with all the red tape with trying to get the bar opened, it became more and more on my end, dealing with the kind of crap that no one wants to deal with," Baish says. Even though everyone involved considers him the club's sole owner now, he has yet to officially buy out the Worthams. "Once the bar opened, it was clear to me that, with the time and money that had been put forth, to divide that 50-50, that wasn't fair. That wasn't something that was gonna happen. I wanted to compensate them for starting the club and seeing it through, but it just became more and more evident to me that having two people..." He trails off, losing the thought. "It had come to the point where I was taking care of everything, and I don't want to say that there was no room, but it became more and more a one-sided deal."
The Worthams weren't pleased with the situation at first, leaving the club they'd started behind. Any hard feelings, however, have evaporated. "Now that I'm removed from the place, I'm really, really a lot happier now," Jayson says. "I hope the best for him, and I hope the best for the place. Denton definitely needs something."
Which is why Baish got involved in the first place and why he's still fighting to open the club's outdoor stage. He was initially told Rubber Gloves would never be able to open the stage, based on its continued parking problem. But after working with city planner Thomas Gray for the past few months, he's on the verge of doing just that, leaving his problems with the city behind. For now.
"I talk to Dan at Dan's Bar, and Dan tells me that he deals with a lot of the same shit that I'm dealing with," Baish says. "I think that, mainly, Denton just has their codes and ordinances. They enforce them so much stricter than Dallas. I think a lot of that has to do with Denton wants to stay small, older...they want to stay true to the historic aspects of Denton. But I don't see it as the city versus the kids. Like, 'We just want to rock.' I don't think it's that. They have a job to do, and I respect that. I just wish we could come to a definite conclusion, because it would save everybody time. I'm sure that they don't want to keep having to do Rubber Gloves shit. Rubber Gloves this, Rubber Gloves that. Let's do it and move on, you know."
The August 20 meeting of the zoning board of adjustment in Denton was a formality, a rubber stamp. Baish knew before he walked in that he'd be leaving empty-handed, that the zoning board wouldn't grant the variance he wanted. Not this time. Since applying for the variance in the middle of June, he'd been working with city planner Thomas Gray, trying to figure out how to resolve Rubber Gloves' parking problem. Before the meeting even began, Baish knew that Gray would go before the board and recommend they postpone making a decision so Rubber Gloves could continue negotiating with a nearby business to use its parking lot and get the 39 parking spaces needed. Which they did:
"It sounds like what we need to do is put this on hold until the next meeting, until we can find out whether we even need to make any motion or not," board member John Johnson says. "Because if he gets the parking worked out, then there is no issue for us to deal with."
"I agree with you, John," the board's chairman, Bob Manning, says. "We might as well table this one more time and give them a chance to exactly work out the details. And then, according to that, the whole thing kind of goes away. Do I have a motion to that effect?"
"I'm making that motion," Johnson says.
And that was that. Baish could have stayed at home and he wouldn't have missed a thing. But he came anyway, because he's too close to the finish line to chance anything. The final hurdle is almost cleared: He's negotiating with Ronnie Stanford--owner of Stanford Muffler & Automotive, an auto repair shop across the railroad tracks from Rubber Gloves--to use his parking lot during shows. The lot still needs to be striped before it can be used, but building inspector Greg Mitchell estimates Stanford's lot can hold 40 to 45 spaces, more than enough to meet the building code.
"What Ronnie Stanford's requiring is, after he [the parking lot striper] goes out there and plans it out and sees how he's going to stripe it, then I have to submit something to Ronnie Stanford going, 'OK, this is what I'm gonna do,'" Baish says. "I think he's going to go ahead and do it."
If Stanford gives the agreement his thumbs-up, and if Mitchell does so as well, the outdoor stage could be opened within a matter of days. Mitchell would come to the club to determine Rubber Gloves' new capacity--he says for a high-concentrated assembly area such as a nightclub, the formula is one person per every 7 square feet--and once he does that, he'll issue Baish a certificate of occupancy. Meaning: The doors are open. "They could have one tomorrow," Mitchell says. "As soon as [the parking situation] is resolved, they get one. Assuming that's the only issue, which I believe it is."
Baish has been happier with his relationship with the city since he began working with Mitchell and Gray, and they both seem to be on his side. Gray, especially, knows how difficult the situation Baish is in is, since he works with people like him everyday.
"He wants to get started, and I understand that," Gray says. "He's been very patient, and I think he's been pretty diligent in the information he's gotten to us. I've had a lot of applicants where you have to hold their hand through the entire process, but I think Josh understands what's going on, and he's trying to rectify the situation as quickly as he can, so he can start using that venue for live acts and such."
Robin Phillips--who until recently worked as Rubber Gloves' booking agent and now books the club through Daughter Entertainment, a new booking agency she runs with the Ridglea Theater's Melissa Kirkendall--is also anxious for the outdoor stage to open.
"Because I can't say yes to everybody, just with the capacity," says Phillips, who's been booking gigs for Rubber Gloves since it first started hosting shows in 1997. Without the outdoor stage, Rubber Gloves' capacity is under 200 people; with it, the club could hold almost 1,000. "It sucks, because like with The Faint and stuff, I totally had to tell the booking agent, 'Oh yeah, the capacity's fine.' You know, we had to move out tables, so if the fire marshal does comes, it doesn't look like there's a lot of people in there."
Baish will be happy when he doesn't have to worry about being unprepared for a surprise visit from the fire marshal, when he can come to work and not be greeted by a message from a building inspector or someone in the planning department. He's also ready for the investment he made three years ago, and all of the money he's spent since then, to start paying off. In some way, he'll say, it has, even though he admits he'd never have bought in if he'd had the slightest idea of what would happen. But seeing great bands every week doesn't pay the rent on his apartment.
"I make the bare minimum," Baish says. "I make enough to get by. I didn't even take a salary at all this month. What helps is the fact that I own the building, so Rubber Gloves pays me rent, which keeps me going. If that weren't the case, then I don't think there'd be really any way I could afford to continue to do that. I don't foresee this being the financial situation for as long as I'm here. I foresee it coming together. If you're involved in a business and you start it, I mean, the turnaround is a couple of years. I finally see that light at the end of the tunnel.
"I know this is not going to make me rich, and I'm not looking for that," he continues. "It's kind of cliché, but there are other payoffs, other than monetarily. You know, it's the fact that I'm getting to do something that I really enjoy doing, and I'm working for myself. I get to see a lot of great music."