Playing second fiddle at Studio B

by Brian Clarey

Damn you, Jeri Rowe. It seems my old boss and current News & Record columnist has scooped me on the opening of Studio B and run it in his paper nearly a full week before ours comes out. Bastard. I thought I was safe… at the Wednesday afternoon ribbon cutting last week, the only other media types in attendance were Rhinoceros Times Publisher Willy Hammer and 99 Blocks Editor Bill Hancock. Neither one carried a notebook, though Willy did have a camera. And I remember bemoaning the state of journalism when so few reporters turn out for an event that boasted free food by three caterers and an open bar. Seriously, what is this business coming to? If you read Rowe’s piece, then you know that Studio B is the brainchild of downtown businessman and theater owner Alan Broach, whose son David and longtime partner Bob Weston aided in the conceptualization and realization of the thing. But here’s where our stories diverge: I was there, feet on the ground, noshing at the buffet tables (gazpacho!) and hitting up the bar while my old friend was typing away at his desk in that drab, brown monstrosity that he used to call “The Big House” back when we were tearing it up at Triad Style. That afternoon deadline cuts both ways, huh pal? Here’s the scene: a slim alley off South Elm Street, lined with flowerpots; a high-ceilinged room, stark white with blue accents and tasteful art. There’s Councilman Robbie Perkins standing near a food table; here’s Councilman Zack Matheny climbing the stairs; and under the elevated DJ platform, Mayor Yvonne Johnson holds court. Down the alley they walk, in pleated khaki and evening black, strappy sandals and sensible shoes, drawn to the action emanating from the newest incarnation of this very old room. This used to be the Salvation Army Building before Broach bought it in the early 1980s and opened the Broach Theatre here in 1987. “[It was] one of the first major renovations on the south side of the railroad tracks,” Broach says. The space that holds Studio B was the basketball court, where the Red Shield Boys Club used to play; the balconies hoisted bleachers for the fans, and a warren of rooms in the back held showers and lockers. Now they call that part of the building the Dungeon, and Weston says it would be perfect for a wine cellar. Catered dinners are part of the business model here, as are weddings and receptions, private parties, fundraisers, dance nights and anything else that suits the room. And sometimes it will be open just so people can hang out. “It’s an unusual thing,” Broach says on the second-floor terrace of the building, where another food table and open bar are set up. “It’s gonna be a membership club.” And the hours of operation? “Just whenever I want to,” he smiles. “I look back now and I think, ‘What the fuck was I thinking? Why did I do this?’” He turns to his partner, “Do you know why, Bob?” “Pressure,” he replies, without missing a beat. Cities have things like this: funky rooms off side alleys with minimal signage, places you don’t know are there unless someone tells you, secret crannies of cool that infiltrate the culture and become arbiters of both taste and style. Taste and style are something Broach carries in spades. “I like the idea that it is secluded, hidden,” he says. The house drink tonight — perhaps every night — is the B-tini, a mixture of blueberry and raspberry vodkas, blue curacao and a splash of Sprite garnished with a few fresh blueberries. The swells are sipping them lustily, which means that they will likely be served at the room’s first open to-the-public event, a tea dance on Sunday that begins at 4 p.m. A tea dance is an afternoon affair, basically a daytime party. Once a “staple of genteel society,” according to our friend Wikipedia, it was co-opted by gay culture over the last 20 years or so. The fellas added DJ music, colorful cocktails and… other stuff, and tea dances are extremely popular in North Carolina and elsewhere. Broach, theater owner, businessman and man of refinement, has been going to them for years, and he appreciates the underground nature of such events. “It was Jesse Helms,” Broach says. “He made us organize. So it’s Jesse’s fault.”

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