Rue 13 owner looks back on closed club

2012-10-05T00:00:00Z Rue 13 owner looks back on closed clubBY KEVIN C. JOHNSON • Post-Dispatch Pop Music Critic • > 314-340-8191

Washington Avenue’s bumpy summer has seen its first casualty: the long-running Rue 13.

Tommy Gray, who opened Rue 13 with Scott Gilmartin and silent partners the McGowan Brothers in 2000, closed the nightclub and lounge Saturday after a last-minute announcement.

Its closing represents the end of an era for downtown nightlife.

He says Washington Avenue has become something akin to a “military zone,” with police everywhere keeping youth in check.

“A lot of people are turned off by that," Gray says. "It wasn’t the inviting atmosphere it used to be when everybody on the street was having fun. The city overreacted.” 

Gray was upset that patios on Washington Avenue had to close at 1:30 a.m.

“That takes the vibrancy off the perimeter of the space," he says. "People would rather leave than go inside.”

The strip as it is today, he says, “is not really cool anymore. It’s a copy of Laclede’s Landing. The clientele has changed a lot.”

And with all that, attendance and alcohol sales at Rue 13 consistently declined. Gray first noticed a decrease four years ago but says it really hit hard this past summer.

“This summer was the worst," he says. "It hit like a ton of bricks. Everybody just freaked out."

And with that, Gray decided it was over for Rue 13. He opted not to renew his lease.

“I booked a bunch of shows, and they weren’t bringing in people anymore, and I decided it was time to go,” Gray says. “We knew something was wrong, but we stuck it out and kept trying to do it.”

He expects more closings.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if by next summer we see other places closed, but I can’t be sure about that," Gray says. "It may turn around. It’s always good to be positive.”

The look and feel of downtown Washington Avenue was a more positive one for Gray in the strip's early days, a time when he also ran the now-closed Velvet.

That period was popping with a slew of other bygone venues: Tangerine, Lo, Cheetah, Polly Esther’s, the Galaxy, the Indigo Room, the Boom Booom Room and Kaos.

“Back then, things were really happening," he says. "The street was the place to be for nightlife. It was very cool and very laid-back. It’s not really cool anymore.”

He believes Rue 13 outlasted everything else from that era because of its different approach, one that welcomed different things and stayed away from being pigeonholed.

“We always tried to do something different," Gray says. "Now if you’re different, you’re ostracized."

Over the years, Rue 13 has been home to a number of special events, including That 80’s Club, Level 13, the Red Rubber Ball, the Alley Cats burlesque show, a punk-rock night and even drag shows.

For a while the drag shows were "really successful, but they wanted to move to the ‘gay-borhood' (the Grove) rather than here,” he says.

Looking back at Rue 13’s heyday, Gray most fondly remembers bookings such as DJs Kaskade, Charles Feelgood, Mark Farina and Scooter & Lavelle (my own fondest memory was a DJ spin from the Roots’ Questlove).

The Rue 13 space is slated to be used as warehouse space for Boxers and Beverly’s Hill underwear stores, located next door.

Gray has been getting calls about running other clubs, but that’s not where his head is. He says he needs a break. In the meantime, he’ll help a friend run a new restaurant, Bar Les Freres, opening soon in Clayton.

“I’m certainly done with Washington Avenue,” says Gray, whose memory of the final night at Rue 13 last Saturday is a warm one.

“There were lots of old faces I haven’t seen in years. It was great. My face is still sore from smiling.”

Kevin C. Johnson is the Post-Dispatch's pop music critic. Follow him on Twitter at @kevincjohnson

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

'Under the Dome' will end run on CBS

'Under the Dome' will end run on CBS

Series finale airs Sept. 10, network says.

August 31, 2015 7:26 pmLoading…
Six Flags announces new Fireball ride

Six Flags announces new Fireball ride

Riders will travel back and forth on a single loop, pendulum style, as they build up speed to soar, quite literally, head over heels.

21 hours ago Related Loading…
Returning shows add new faces for fall

Returning shows add new faces for fall

Cliffhangers are resolved in season premieres.

September 02, 2015 11:00 am Related Loading…
The Lunch Bag: Pappy's, Bogart's ranked among nation's best ribs

The Lunch Bag: Pappy's, Bogart's ranked among nation's best ribs

Pappy's cracks the top 10 of the Daily Meal's list.

September 01, 2015 11:40 amLoading…
X is ready for fans to embrace its new sound

X is ready for fans to embrace its new sound

Band performs Wednesday at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.

September 02, 2015 5:00 amLoading…
Get your daily push from the Go! Entertainment app

Get your daily push from the Go! Entertainment app

Want to know what to do in St. Louis? Get the latest from the Go! Entertainment app. Receive alerts for the day's best bets and when concerts …

September 01, 2015 9:15 amLoading…
Ian Froeb's STL 100: Find St. Louis' best restaurants

Ian Froeb's STL 100: Find St. Louis' best restaurants

Ian Froeb's inaugural STL 100 lists the 100 best restaurants in St. Louis.

April 17, 2015 1:52 pmLoading…

Kevin C. Johnson

Kevin C. Johnson

Pop music critic Kevin C. Johnson comes home bleary-eyed and smelling of smoke many nights — and he wouldn’t trade that for the world. Visit the Blender to get your cocktail of all he's seen and heard at local concerts and clubs.

On Tuesdays, watch for Kevin's Blender video report. And find more updates from Kevin at, and