Music News & Reviews

Buster's Billiards & Backroom closed due to financial troubles

Lillie Hiatt and The Dropped Ponies was scheduled to play with Those Crosstown Rivals on Friday August 12, 2011 at Buster's in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Angela Baldridge
Lillie Hiatt and The Dropped Ponies was scheduled to play with Those Crosstown Rivals on Friday August 12, 2011 at Buster's in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Angela Baldridge

Buster's Billiards & Backroom, the music venue that anchored the fledgling Distillery District on Manchester Street, has closed because of financial pressures, owner Clark Case said Thursday.

"It's been financially touch-and-go for all five-plus years, and we just hit a tough spot, and things kind of circled around and got us in a pinch where we couldn't renew our liquor license," Case said. "That's why it was kind of sudden."

The license expired Sunday, and the closing was effective immediately.

Case is working to reschedule the few shows that are on the venue's calendar. A Saturday performance by the local act Fifth on the Floor will be Jan. 17 at Cosmic Charlie's.

"I can say with all honesty that FOTF is where it is today because of three people outside of this band, and Clark Case is one of those people," Fifth on the Floor member Justin Wells said Thursday in a Facebook post. "Buster's gave Fifth on the Floor a chance right out of the gate, long before we likely deserved it. That's not something that happens a lot in a small music market."

Case and his ex-wife, Jessica, bought Buster's during its last few months on Main Street, before it moved to make way for the still- unfinished CentrePointe project. It opened at 899 Manchester Street in September 2009, anchoring the Distillery District. The couple split a few years later, and Clark Case is now the sole owner.

"Buster's has been the flagship venue in the Distillery District for more than five years," said Barry McNees, one of the primary developers and property owners in the district. "They were a pioneer coming into the Distillery District and really set a tone for how interesting places can be when they are in rediscovered, repurposed buildings."

McNees, a part owner of the Buster's property, said the venue was in the warehouse of the Old Tarr Distillery, the first registered distillery in Lexington.

Case said he felt particularly bad about closing Buster's because it was one of the primary draws in the district, presenting concerts by national and regional artists, and hosting events including Mayor Jim Gray's election celebration and the annual PRHBTN street art festival and Give Into the Groove events.

In a statement, Case said, "I can only hope and pray that somehow, some way, some midsize music venue will continue here in the Lexington Distillery District for our community and our music scene."

McNees said he hoped that another business could come into the Buster's space, "to continue the dynamic they established," he said.

Buster's closing leaves Cosmic Charlie's at Woodland and Euclid avenues, Natasha's Bistro and Bar downtown, and Willie's Locally Known at Loudon and Broadway as the main nontheater venues presenting national touring music artists.

Asked whether there was any chance of Buster's reopening, Case said, "Anything's possible," but it wasn't in his current plans. It had a veneer of success, but Case said Buster's was never well off financially.

"It was undercapitalized from the beginning, and kind of show to show and day to day," he said.