Slabtown, one of the few music venues (beyond downtown) in Northwest Portland and the city's second most stacked pinball bar, is going up for sale this week after a five-year run. Brinda Coleman, who bought Slabtown with two other co-owners in 2006 and opened on Groundhog's Day of 2007, has been running the business alone since co-owner Sam Soule left last February, and she says it's time to move on.
"The main thing is just that I'm a single mom, I have three boys [at] 7, 10 and 15, and we homeschool," Coleman says from the back of the club, where bands' press photos and fliers of old Slabtown shows hang crooked on the walls. "Even when I'm not at work I'm still working. I'd rather spend more time with them. That's the crux of the issue. My boys, I look at them and they've grown up in a bar scene and they're essentially making their own cereal and toast—I want to be their parent again."
Booking Slabtown's live music has proven a taxing addition to Coleman's workload in the last year. "When Sam [Soule] left, I had to take over all the booking, and as it turns out, that is a big job," she says with feigned surprise. "Running the bar was always kind of my thing—doing the books, the kitchen, all of that—but taking on every aspect of the live music end was overwhelming. It's not my forté, I don't think I'm particularly good at it."
Asked whether Coleman would consider bringing in an outside booker and continuing to run the club, she says the right people have been hard to find. "The vision that Sam and I had, as far as the type of music we wanted in our club, not a lot of people are doing it or they already have their own bars. Competition is increasing and without two heads in it—Sam and I—it's really hard to do what we want to do. We could just turn it into a reggae club or something, but that isn't what we set out to do."
What Slabtown does best, in a musical sense, is attract underground music of the punk and garage rock variety. Competition has indeed increased in that department, with bars like East End, The Know and a rejuvenated Tonic Lounge pulling from a similar pool of local and touring artists. Slabtown's overall aesthetic, though, is singular—part adult arcade, part dive bar and part working class happy hour spot, the club seems miles away from the condo culture of the nearby Pearl district. It's hard to imagine Slabtown's unique character staying intact under new ownership, but that's Coleman's hope. "I would love to come across somebody that I know and trust who is interested in continuing on what we had started. That would be ideal," Coleman says. Still, she's "open to all suggestions" when it comes to retaining an ownership stake. "There's a lot of flexibility in that, for sure."
Coleman's broker is putting Slabtown on the market this week, but Coleman says she's also open to taking direct (serious) inquiries herself. There's some uncertainty, of course ("This is the first time I've ever sold a bar," Coleman says), but she knows that she's ready to move on. "Managing a bar, that's manageable—but adding on to that [being] the face of the club and doing the booking and everything, it has just become more than what I signed up for."