If you were anywhere near the Internet or social media Wednesday, you felt the quake coming directly from beloved Houston music venue Fitzgerald’s. Dozens of Facebook feeds showed photos of the damage left behind: toilet paper strewn across the upstairs area, and satanic graffiti scrawled all over one of the stages. Many who saw the pictures were outraged that one of the Bayou City’s most revered music establishments would be treated with such disrespect, while those answerable for the club’s condition say it’s closer to a misunderstanding.
For her part, the club’s longtime owner, Sara Fitzgerald, seemed to be taking it in stride.
“They [previous tenants] kind of had a farewell party last night and kind of trashed it, but we’ll get it back together,” she said about the damage Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not as serious as it looked this morning, but messy. They just took it from every floor and wrote stuff on the floor. A parting shot, I guess.
“Today, we’re just getting the mess out — toilet paper and straws and anything bar-related got spread over three floors,” she adds. “Satanic stuff — 666, the pentagram. Very juvenile stuff.”
According to former general manager Josh Merritt, he and the club's most recent tenant, Dacondo Casey, had already decided to move out earlier in the week. Other accounts hold that they were evicted, but Merritt says he and Casey were upset at what they felt was the unfair rent Fitzgerald charged, coupled with a lack of renovations that would have been welcome.
“Considering there wasn’t any remodeling, why should we pay more?” Merritt says. “It makes it almost impossible to make any money in the building. We couldn’t make any more renovations because we were trying to pay rent.”
Merritt says the now-former staff decided to rent out the club Tuesday night in order to make a little extra money before they vacated, calling the people throwing the party “punk rock kids.” He and Casey paid for the carpet on the downstairs stage that was defaced, Merritt adds, and can produce the receipts. The vandalism, he says, “is not something I condone…I regret that it happened.”
However, “there was no destruction of that building,” swears Merritt, adding he left the party early and Casey was never there at all Tuesday. “Everything we put in there, including the new a/c units, the compressors, toilets, walls [was] to keep the neighbors happy because they were complaining about the noise ordinance. All that stuff is still in the building.
“Sara [Fitzgerald] still has our $50,000 security deposit,” he adds. “We wouldn’t do anything to lose that money.”
Merritt says he and Casey (who could not be reached for comment Tuesday) had decided to leave because the overhead costs of running the club were too high for them to afford making any repairs, but the building’s physical condition is hardly the only issue facing Fitzgerald’s lately. Since Merritt and Casey took over in October, allegations of mismanagement and unfair treatment of both employees and the bands playing the club have surfaced more than once.
Wednesday, we also spoke with Shawn Walsh, former production manager at the club, who recently left, citing financial issues with management. Walsh started at Fitzgerald’s on October 18, after Casey’s original GM, Lauren Oakes, had left the club. Merritt came aboard at around the same time.
“The first few weeks were okay,” Walsh says, “and then I started seeing some very shady things going on.”
According to Walsh, that includes bands not being paid what they had been promised, management “moving money around,” employees not being paid on time and payroll checks bouncing.
“They got fixed — or everyone would have quit right there — but it was a huge problem,” Walsh says.
With all the stories that have been flying around Fitz the past few months, these charges are among the least outrageous, but Merritt denies any financial mishandling.
“I can provide receipts and canceled checks and check stubs for all of that,” he says. “Anyone who’s ever received a check from us, I can prove it cleared.”
As for the bands, Merritt says if they didn’t get paid what they were expecting, it’s because they didn’t draw enough people.
“We never had an issue with someone not getting paid what they were promised,” he says. “If they didn’t hit the numbers that were set, like if you didn’t cover the house nut, then, if you bring in 50 people on a Saturday with five bands on the bill, you probably don’t need to be playing at Fitz.”
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Fitz’s illustrious history has bred a sense of entitlement among local bands, he continues.
“Local bands feel entitled to play there,” Merritt says. “They’ll come in from out of town, or out of the Loop, the classic northside rivalry that’s been going on for years. We give them a shot to play, and there’s no draw. They feel like the venue should take the loss.”
The real loss, many Houstonians feared Wednesday, would be of arguably the city’s most historic music venue. However, Sara Fitzgerald has already said she plans to reapply for a liquor license and resume running her namesake club. If for some reason she decides not to, though, the Facebook comments of our original article were full of people offering to rent it out themselves — or at least asking how much the rent cost.
Chris Gray and Nathan Smith contributed to this article.