No Longer Ivy 

Local roots-rock and beer hole changes ownership.

Happy hour approaches on Wednesday, August 30 at Albany's Ivy Room, but owner Bill MacBeath stares out his window at San Pablo Avenue and sighs heavily.

"Life is funny," he says. "I didn't think things would go out this way."

This week, the gritty East Bay music institution that has been home to dozens of local bands will change ownership — the result of increased rent, dwindling numbers of regulars, and a shifting neighborhood.

The Ivy Room emerged in the '40s, and MacBeath's parents bought it in 1992. When MacBeath Sr. died three years later, he handed the keys to Bill, but his mom really ran the place while he played bass in touring bands. She passed away in 2003, and many of the regulars stopped showing.

"They came for some real grandma love, and I can't really supply that," MacBeath said. "They miss her."

Others will now miss what the Ivy Room came to represent. Swing, rock, blues, and rockabilly bands like Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, Jim Campilongo, the Loved Ones, Deke Dickerson, and Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express found a rare home on the Ivy Room's small, funky stage.

"It really is a loss for everyone," Prophet wrote in an e-mail. "These kinds of small, family-run businesses are the epitome of the American Dream."

"It's going to leave a huge hole for local bands and touring bands," added Dave Gleason of Dave Gleason's Wasted Days. "So many people latched onto that place. It was the ground zero for roots music in the East Bay, if not the whole Bay Area. ... It was definitely our home base and the only club in the Bay Area that actually gave us the feel of that."

While it's hard not to see the Ivy Room's possible demise as a symbol of a struggling East Bay club scene, it may well be part of the natural ebb and flow of the club business. MacBeath says he might open another club in the future ... after his vacation, of course.

In the meantime, regulars like Stuart Teitler ponder the future. "It's very bad news for me," said the 65-year-old and avid tap dancer, who lives around the corner and has been frequenting the Ivy Room for ten years. "I have friends here, and it's going to be very hard for me to deal with it. Times change quickly in the Bay Area."

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