Club making itself part of social scene

Last updated: May 11. 2014 11:49PM - 4647 Views
By - smocarsky@civitasmedia.com

Mary Bogert, James O'Rourke and James Callahan talk about The Factory: Underground rock club on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Aimee Dilger | The Times Leader
Mary Bogert, James O'Rourke and James Callahan talk about The Factory: Underground rock club on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
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The Factory: Underground

• Located at 105 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre

• Open 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

• All-age-event matinees will be on Sundays; Karaoke Tuesdays begin May 6.

• Find it online at www.facebook.com/thefactoryunderground.

• Sign up for text blasts to get events and special promotions sent to your cell phone by texting Underground to 570-905-7331.

WILKES-BARRE — There's a new “Factory” downtown.
A Wilkes-Barre nightclub that had spats of popularity through the 1980s and '90s has re-opened under new management featuring a different genre of music, and it's thriving in the same downtown building that housed the original “Factory” three decades ago.
The Factory: Underground, located at 105 N. Main St. in a building that most recently was home to The Mines nightclub, is pumping some additional adrenalin into the downtown nightlife, with local bands performing a wide variety of rock styles, as well as some occasional rhythm-and-blues, reggae and even country.
“We don't get droves of people like Rodano's does. … We have more of a select crowd that would be interested in the place, even if they knew it exists. It looks like an apartment building from the outside,” said James O'Rourke, one of The Factory's co-owners.
O'Rourke, 33, is partners in the business with his girlfriend, Mary Bogert, also 33, and longtime friend and area musician/promoter James Callahan, 44. All are from Wilkes-Barre. Operating the club is a “dream come true” for them, and they believe it's a perfect fit for the downtown.
“I was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre. Commerce in the downtown area has been on a steady down tick,” O'Rourke said.
“I've lived in Philadelphia, I've lived in New York, I used to tour with a band called Wolfpac and I've been to every big city in the United States about 18 times at least, and I view our downtown area to be almost a South Street in Philly, the Village in New York, where it's more art. With the two colleges here, you have a lot of possibilities,” he said.
A perfect fit
Callahan used to operate the Rattler in Pittston, which was a popular venue for many of the bands that play at The Factory, until structural problems with the building forced The Rattler's closing. And the fact that The Factory is actually Callahan's old stomping ground made the partnership a perfect fit for his involvement.
“When The Factory originally opened as an underground dance club, I was a kid. It was an under-21 dance club Friday and Saturday nights and it brought kids from everywhere — Hazleton, Scranton,Wilkes-Barre — together. People from other towns started meeting each other at 13, 14 years old,” Callahan said.
The club was open off-and-on over the course of a decade, as the dance club scene ran its course in the area. Years later, when Callahan returned home from college, he was hired by the building owner, local entrepreneur and promoter Thom Greco, to work at other venues including the amphitheater at Harveys Lake.
“I asked him, 'What's going on with The Factory?' He said, 'Please, take it, rent it from me,' ” Callahan said.
So Callahan took over The Factory in 1992.
“We opened on the weekends for underground live music. That ran it's course and then I left town,” he said.
The club closed not long after that and Greco renovated the first-floor space, which now contains state offices.
For a while, the basement housed a weight-lifting center for King's College students before the college expanded its fitness center, Bogert said.
Finding a new purpose
In the mid 2000s, Greco came up with an idea for a bar/restaurant that would pay tribute to the area's mining history. He dug out the basement of the former Factory building to 30 feet below street level. King's art students created murals on the walls depicting mining scenes. And The Mines opened in 2008, O'Rourke said.
Greco eventually turned the venue into a dance club and it did well.
“It was actually a pretty popular place for a while. Then, like a lot of places around here when you get popular, it started attracting a bad crowd and it just wasn't justifiable at some point to keep going. So The Mines closed down for about six years. Then it re-opened as The Factory, but it just never took off as a dance club again. It sat dormant for a year and a half,” O'Rourke said.
At that time, O'Rourke and Mary worked at Best Western Genetti Hotel and Conference Center on East Market Street, where Greco also worked for owner Gus Genetti, Greco's uncle. Greco would have O'Rourke and Mary work as bartenders at The Mines for some private functions.
When O'Rourke walked in the front door, through corridors that mimic mine tunnels, down stairs with handrails that resemble support timbers and into a wide-open basement with an upper deck overlooking a dance floor and stage, he was impressed, to say the least.
“When I first saw the place, you come down here and it opens up like that, it struck me to be a live music venue. All the focus is on the stage. To me, it doesn't scream dance hall, it screams live music venue. And I fell in love with the place the first time I was down here,” O'Rourke said.
That's when O'Rourke decided he wanted to pursue a new career as a club operator and bring a new venue to the area for local musicians and music lovers.
“There's no Cafe Metropolis, no Mantis Green — the coffee houses that bands used to play for all-age crowds anymore down here in Wilkes-Barre. You have the Vintage up in Scranton, but when you're 15, 16 years old, how are you going to get to Scranton? Mom doesn't want to always take you out there, so we try to do as many all-age events as possible,” O'Rourke said.
Expecting big things
The set-up of The Factory: Underground, with it's 500-person capacity and working bars located only on the upper level for mixed age events, provides a venue where the under-21 and over-21 crowds can enjoy the same entertainment experience.
“The musicians around here play in bars that happen to have live music. My motto is, I want to be a venue for music that happens to have a bar,” O'Rourke said.
Bogert said the fact that the state Liquor Control Board refused to renew Greco's liquor license last year is a non-issue.
LCB spokesman Shawn Kelly said the board denied Greco's license renewal because of his past violation history. He appealed the decision to Commonwealth Court and a hearing is scheduled for later this month. The venue can still sell alcohol pending outcome of the appeal.
Bogert said that with the new management, including her, O'Rourke, Callahan and facility manager Mark Lehman, and the fact that Greco isn't involved in running the business, she expects the LCB will have no reason not to renew the license.
The three partners said they foresee big things for the club in the future. They plan to begin booking national acts that are “too small for the Kirby” Center on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre “but too big for Olde Tyme Charley's” in Plains Township, O'Rourke said.
They should have no trouble finding bands to book, O'Connell said, given what the venue has to offer.
“A club like this is what I used to see in bigger cities,” he said. “To have something like this here, it's a gem.”

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