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May 4, 2011

Update: Sonar closes; status of upcoming shows is unclear

Sonar has shut don, effective immediately, said acting general manager Daniel McIntosh.

The end of the club, a fixture downtown for over a decade, is the result of a business dispute between McIntosh, his partners and Sonar founder Lonnie Fisher. 

A show by Talib Kweli, which was scheduled for Wednesday night, has been cancelled. The fate of all upcoming shows is unclear, McIntosh said. The club's booking agents are trying to reschedule the appearances, which included, among others, Odd Future.

Update: The Talib Kweli show scheduled for Wednesday night has been moved to Bourbon Street, the rapper tweeted. Pre-purchased tickets will be honored.  

McIntosh did not know if tickets that have already been purchased for future shows will be refunded, nor if the club's owners and investors will resolve their differences.

"With a shutdown, it's kind of hard to know what's going to happen at all," McIntosh said. "We have no idea what's going to happen."

The club's liquor license expired on May 1, according to the Baltimore Liquor Board. The application for a renewal should have been filed by April 1, or by late deadline April 30.

News of the club's shutdown first appeared on Facebook, where a status update posted late afternoon read, "We here at Sonar regret to inform you that we are no longer able to operate as a venue."

The update went on to suggest that Fisher, who is now the executive director of the Baltimore Grand Prix, refused to renew the liquor license this year, and as a result effectively shut down the club. 

McIntosh, who said he's been the club's acting manager for a year, said the club's account, which included money from ticket sales, is now exhausted from paying taxes.

Without a liquor license, he suggested, the club can't make any money to pay headliners. "There's no way you can pay them," he said. "All the ticket money went to paying taxes."

While the liquor board confirmed that Sonar is not on a list of bars and restaurants whose license renewals are on hold because of overdue sales taxes,  it is possible that's because a renewal application was never filed before the April 1 deadline, said liquor board chairman Stephan Fogleman.

Fisher, who opened Sonar in 2001, disputed his involvement in the club's end. He said he sold the business in 2007, and the rest of his remaining shares in 2009. "The check writing and full stewardship of the business was handed over in 2007," he said. 

But McIntosh said that the sale, to a corporation where he's a partner named 407 Saratoga Inc., was never made official because the club was not tax-compliant. Fisher also disputes this. The bar's liquor license was unavailable when the closing news was posted on Facebook.

Fisher said he has tried to get the new owners of the club to remove his name from the liquor license for the past two years, but that he has been unsuccessful. He said that he has kept his name on it until this year because of a timing issue and because he was reluctant to shut down a club he founded. 

"When it came down to renew the license, I wasn't going to sign up for a business that I haven't owned since 2009," he said. "For some reason, they have not renewed it." He said he has no plans to go to court unless McIntosh continues "slandering him."

McIntosh said he wants to keep the club alive, but that his partners will likely want to "wash their hands" of it. While he's been in contact with Fisher's attorney, he doesn't know if they will face off in court.

"I have no idea if we'll go to court, but I guarantee it," he said. "There's no way we won't sue each other over this."

By late Wednesday afternoon, #sonar, #sonar_baltimore, @realtalibkweli, and even #lonnie trended on twitter. 

Across social media, fans mourned the passing of a club that had hosted major independent acts over the years, including, most recently, Wu-Tang Clan. 

"Our thoughts are with Club Sonar in Baltimore, right now. We played our first gig there in 2007," wrote duo Lazerbitch on its Facebook page.

This post has been updated since it was originally published Wednesday afternoon. Clarification: the deadline to file a renewal application is April 1, after which a daily late fee applies. The late deadline is April 30, the last day before licenses expire for the previous year.

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Posted by Erik Maza at 5:39 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Sonar had its moments -- like seeing The Pixies on their reunion tour -- but it could be a pretty bad place to see a show. The Black Crowes show had awful sound and was stiflingly hot.

There sound system was beyond wretched, but it's always sad to lose a live music venue.

I went to a couple shows was too hot to breathe, the sound was awful, and the bartenders were slow. In it's 10 years (which I can't believe) they've only had like three bands play there that I wanted to see. Also, every band that I've personally known that's played there has complained. So, meh.

I saw atari teenage riot there on their reunion tour. Alec Empire remarked on how important baltimores electronic music scene is to the world.... Losing another music venue is indeed a huge lose to bmore... :-(

Who owns the business according to business records / public information / landlord?

Talib Kweli has been moved to Bourbon St tonihgt...

Whats the word on Friday's New Deal show??

How does this affect Marylands Deathfest?


McIntosh? Popular club abruptly closing? Shady liquor license?

What does that remind me of? Oh yeah:

The New Deal is in the process of being relocated to Bourbon Street

What does this mean for Talking Head? Is that a separate license?

Good Riddance. This place sucked. Worst Sound Ever.

I remember going to a local music showcase at Sonar... it was uncomfortably hot, the sound was awful, the bathrooms were foul...

Oh well... Baltimore does need a new rock venue, maybe somebody can bring the place back to life... with better sound.

I can't count how many times I've seen shows at Sonar, and I'll miss that place a lot. All these people whining about the sound system being bad have obviously not been to the alternative venues around the city, which are much worse. Still, the shows there lately haven't been of the caliber I expected lately, likely due to their issues with handling their finances.

I've played at Sonar and seen lots of shows in both rooms. The sound could definitely be awful, but it's still not good to lose a live music venue.

sonar provided nightly entertainment in a desperately venue-starved city. the structure was not of top quality, but other places in the city could not match its constant stream of music, performances, various acts and other entertainment.
the city is going to suffer for it both immediately and over the long term. and its actually a situation that the mayor should get involved in. hopefully this isn't permanent.

Haha - remember when that place was in Canton ? haha bunch of silly jerks that were too cool for school....smell ya later!

YEah, I don't know if this will exactly kill the music scene, nor do I think we need our politicians making moves on this (to SRB's credit, she pushed through the relaxed live-music licenses already). Bourbon Street, though horribly name, seems to be picking up Sonar's leftovers, and could be a solution longterm. Clubs come and go here.

Interesting, isn't Deathfest around the corner? Would be good to check in with those organizers about their plans.

I was not a fan of Sonar. It was hot, the sound sucked, the layout was terrible, and the bathroom was always closed at some point during the course of the night.
Someone will pick up the slack as a venue. The scene needs venues but the scene isn't going to go away just because one venue does. Seems to be a big win for Bourbon St and Ram's Head Live.

Good Riddance!

After last year's Insubordination Fest I've silently cheered for Sonar's demise.

McIntosh is a scumbag who blames other people for his lack of business sense.

dan is a jerk. he is a liar. he is a thief. and he has a small penis. he is an ex junky. he is an embarrassment. mccabes sucks too.

dan is abusive to his employees. he doesnt pay them. sonars bathrooms would literally overflow with poop water and he was too cheap to fix it.

Jealousy and envy are evil. People who think Dan is anything but a stand up, honest individual obviously need a check. Good for you Dan, moving on.

Yeah. Way to go Dan. Run the place into the ground. 1st step, tear out the long huge money making bar so you can cram more people in. 2nd step, let the bathrooms get disgusting and don't provide a nice green room for acts. 3rd step, don't team up with Seth (from 9:30 club) who is one of the best in the business. Brilliant.

Any word on tonight's Bowling for Soup show?

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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