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Last Call

Magnolia's owner calls it quits

By Greg Cahill

"A girl who called herself a Gypsy came in one time and dropped off this tape," says Scott Goree, leaning against the bar at Magnolia's--his Santa Rosa nightclub--encircled by memorabilia hanging on the walls. Goree, his long salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a ponytail, pauses to listen to the plaintive strains of the Gypsy violin reverberating through the darkened room. "I asked, 'How will I get hold of you in case I want you to play?' She said, 'Well, I just travel around, but I figured that if someday I'm traveling through town you might like to hire me.'

"It was a pretty interesting encounter," he adds with a laugh.

Unless that wandering minstrel swings through town before the end of the month, she will have missed her chance to perform at the county's oldest continuously operating nightclub. After 10 years in business, Goree is closing the doors of his Railroad Square venue at the end of this month. In May, it will reopen under new ownership as a Latin dance club operated by the owners of the Puerto Vallarta restaurant in Santa Rosa.

After a couple of shaky years, the final nail in the proverbial coffin came in January when the Santa Rosa City Council voted to ban live nude performances. That action stopped Goree, a 47-year-old Penngrove resident, from presenting the California Hardbodies, the Petaluma-based troupe of scantily clad female hot-oil wrestlers. "I could make more in three or four nights of California Hardbodies and Monday Night Football than I could the rest of the month put together," says Goree. "I knew that if they were going to deny me the right to do that, then I probably wasn't going to survive anyway."

Last month, a federal court in San Francisco temporarily set aside the ban and ordered the city attorney to explain why the ordinance--which exempts nude performances at theaters--should apply only to local nightclubs. Meanwhile, the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission has informed Goree that it plans to suspend his license for hosting Hardbodies shows that occurred before the ordinance was passed.

The ABC report, filed by three undercover Santa Rosa police officers, alleges that Hardbodies performers "simulated having sex with the air and floor." ABC regulations strictly forbid the simulation of sex. Goree contends that the local police "sat on the report" until after the Hardbodies lawsuit was filed and then passed it along to the ABC.

A couple of weeks ago, state officials told Goree they planned to suspend his liquor license for up to 60 days--the kiss of death for the struggling nightclub. "That made me decide to sell under duress," says Goree, who rarely had police called to his establishment to break up fights and never had a previous ABC warning. "It's obvious that something's askew politically."

This week, Goree reluctantly signed a waiver admitting that he had allowed the Hardbodies to perform lewd acts. An appeal would have taken up to two years to be heard. "If I contested the charges, I'd have to pay legal costs and wouldn't have been able to sell the club," he says. "And then I'd have the Santa Rosa Police Department and the ABC breathing down my neck."

A former restauranteur and music publicist, Goree became a partner at Magnolia's in 1987, seven years after the club first opened. In recent years, the venue has hosted a wide array of big-name rock, blues, and Cajun acts. It also became a vibrant showcase for rising local talent. "Things are always changing in this business and they change very fast," Goree says. "Since I've been here, the Daily Planet [now the Funhouse] has changed hands four times, Joe Frogger's has changed hands three times. Pierce Street Annex went by in a flash. Bleacher's has changed hands three or four times. Café This came and went.

"It seems like nightclubs in Santa Rosa have a life span of two years or so."

Goree recently sought unsuccessfully to purchase the Inn of the Beginning with Jerry Schwartz, owner of Jerome's Barbecue in Petaluma, and may yet re-emerge in the local club scene. "We're still looking for another venue, but it's not easy to find the ideal place."

Meanwhile, Goree has withstood the many trials and tribulations that rocked the nightclub industry in the past decade: tougher drunken driving laws, annual state liquor tax increases, the burgeoning home video market, MTV, and the "cocooning" phenomenon, to name a few. "Anybody who wants to own a business looks for the potential to expand. One thing about this business is that it's generally a constricted business--everything that happens socially or legally constricts your ability to do business," he laments. "It's just the opposite of what any intelligent businessman looks for. My theory is that you have to have a screw loose and have to love it in order to do it."

Why has he done it all these years?

"I have a screw loose," he adds with a laugh.

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From the April 11-17, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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