Landlord-tenant dispute delays popular nightspot's reopening
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Mark Cole checks messages via computer and phone during the Upstage remodeling in Port Townsend recently.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Both sides in a dispute over the Upstage, a popular nightspot that was scheduled to close for a two-week renovation period, say they would like to find a resolution that has stretched the renovation period to nearly two months.

Both landlord Dave Peterson and club owner Mark Cole said Monday that they had not given up on finding a way to reopen the club under the same management.

But legal issues need to be resolved first.

“I still think we can come to an agreement,” Cole said.

“I would like it to reopen as soon as possible,” Peterson said.

On June 28, one week after the club's expected reopening, Peterson served Cole with a 30-day eviction notice.

Neither side will describe the issues in detail, but both confirmed they originated in damage that was not anticipated.

Peterson said that “a lot of dry rot” was underneath the floors, and Cole's responsibility for this was yet to be determined.

“There are some repairs being made, and the nature, extent and cause of those repairs are under dispute,” said Peggy Ann Bierbaum, Cole's attorney.

“We would like to resolve this without having it end up in litigation.”

Cole said he and Peterson signed a lease agreement in May that was violated by the eviction notice, while Peterson said Monday that “Mark's lease was always month to month.”

Cole employs around 12 people and has found jobs or opportunities for most of them during the closure, he said.

The renovation of the restaurant is part of a property shuffle brought about after the closure of the Undertown, which was in the alley adjacent to The Upstage.

Peterson, who owns the Terry Building in which The Upstage is located, closed the Undertown in December with the intention of reopening in the spring.

But he found the renovation cost-prohibitive.

He decided to open a new restaurant in the space above The Upstage that was occupied by two businesses — Bazaar Girls and the Candle Shop — which he evicted May 31, but he has not disclosed any specific plans about a new venture.

At the time, Peterson said in a statement that The Upstage would be closed for two weeks “to allow for a much-needed upgrade to the hood system in the kitchen.

“Besides better protecting the Terry Building from fire loss, the new system will allow The Upstage to expand its menu offerings,” the statement said.

On Monday, Peterson said he still plans to open a restaurant in the upper space but the plans for doing so, as with those for The Upstage, “are all up in the air.”

For the past several years, the Upstage has served as one of the main venues for Centrum's Jazz and Acoustic Blues festivals, with the club filled for the entire week during those times.

Jazz festival program manager Greg Miller said the shows scheduled for The Upstage were moved to the American Legion Hall, 209 Monroe St., and the Alchemy Bistro, 842 Washington St.

“The Upstage was one of the most popular festival venues, but we will have the exact same musicians and shows in other locations,” Miller said.

“It's a little sad that it's not available, but Mark has really scrambled to help us bring this together.”

The Legion Hall also is serving as a temporary location for Cole's shows, including a performance by Commander Cody at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Cody, who has performed at The Upstage several times over the past few years, was booked months ago.

Tickets for Commander Cody are $30 and available at the door or by phoning 360-385-2216.

Other scheduled shows are the John Nemeth Blues Band on July 18, Pearl Django on July 19 and David Jacobs-Strain on July 20.

All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. with ticket prices ranging from $12 to $15.

Cole said he will continue to produce shows and seek out new location options until the legal issues are resolved.

“The Upstage is an institution,” said Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce President Dominic Svornich, who is also a musician.

“We will work with Mark to help him find a new location and will do all we can to support this.”

“The Upstage is a community icon,” said Jack Reid, a musician who runs the Monday sessions.

“It presents a variety of music and offers the highest quality entertainment that you can see anywhere.

“But a club that opens in that location will not be The Upstage. The club is Mark, the staff and the music. The building has nothing to do with it.”

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: July 08. 2013 6:16PM
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