Ray von Schlageter was just out of high school when his family moved to Oklahoma in the early 1980s, far from their crumbling neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. He was used to the burgeoning punk and New Wave scene in the Big Apple, so it was with considerable surprise and disappointment he learned there was nothing similar in the Oklahoma City metro.
"When I got to Oklahoma, it was all country and the old rock music," von Schlageter said. "The main things I was hearing (here) was REO Speedwagon and AC/DC."
But a handbill bearing a recognizable name caught his attention in late 1982.
"I saw something about The Bowery," he said. "The name alone made me think of the south end of Manhattan, which was a pretty dangerous, seedy area at the time."
The Bowery Club, opened by a group of partners in October 1982 in the basement of the Plaza Court Building, at 901 N.W. 12th, was then advertised as Oklahoma City's "only New Music Club."
"It was pretty much advertised as being in the basement with punk or alternative music, and my recollections from New York were that it was gonna be a tough crowd, and that you were gonna count on getting into a fight that night," von Schlageter, now 47, said. "I had to prep myself. I put on the toughest outfit I could find: my motorcycle jacket, my engineer boots that I had forever, and I just kinda toughened up, ready for a fight."
But von Schlageter never found a battle at The Bowery.
"The regulars took me in as a newcomer and bought me beers and made me feel like I was at home," he said. "It was a very alternative experience here in the center of Oklahoma."
Over the next three years, The Bowery grew from the vague aspirations and sweat equity of its partners into a regular tour stop for a long list of bands, some obscure and now obsolete, and others later destined for well-deserved fame.
Among the acts who appeared were The Flaming Lips, Lene Lovich, Romeo Void, Translator, Wall of Voodoo, The Call, Rubber Rodeo, The Bangles, The Gun Club and Violent Femmes, as well as R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Replacements. The club later relocated, occupying a former church building near N.W. 31st Street and Classen Boulevard. The original Bowery closed there in 1985.
The Bowery also became a second home for a group of fiercely loyal regulars, DJs and local musicians who, heading a charge by former Bowery bar manager Stephen Kovash, are regrouping for a Friday and Saturday reunion at VZD's Restaurant & Club, 4200 N. Western.
The reunion had its genesis when The Fortune Tellers " an Oklahoma City group that was a de facto house band at The Bowery " played a New Year's Eve reunion show at VZD's in late December.
"A bunch of people contacted me because I'm the only one still in Oklahoma City who worked at The Bowery," Kovash said. "I said, 'Let's have a reunion,' and that's how we got here."
HOME, HANGOUT AND RUNWAY
Bowery regulars were typically a mix of college and graduate students, as well as a sprinkling of underage music fans, all of whom shared a taste for new, different music.
Doug Arms, 44, who now lives and works in the Tulsa area, was a 10th grader in Edmond when he and some friends first bluffed their way into The Bowery.
"I was a little, short-haired, skate-punk kid who really shouldn't have been there," Arms said. "We were looking for our CBGB, or something like the other places we read about in the music magazines. A lot of the older people there were artistic weirdos in their 20s and 30s, and we were overwhelmed by that. But we got to hang out and saw some fabulous bands."
Jeff Blount was another underage Bowery regular who was admitted, ostensibly because he was a musician.
"When I started playing at The Bowery, I was in a band with some older guys called Wild Youth that became 12 O'Clock High, and I was probably 17 or 18," said Blount, now 43 and a high-end audio/video salesman. "It was a gig for me. It was a place they'd let our band play. We played mostly original music, and original music was encouraged and it was accepted at The Bowery."
In addition to the music, Susan Kolliopoulos, now 53 and a social worker in Austin, Texas, said many young women who frequented the Bowery were deeply dedicated to what became an ongoing style and fashion event.
"A lot of the women who went there would shop for vintage clothes and it was like a fashion contest every night," she said. "We'd watch bands come out onstage and their jaws would drop because there would be so many gorgeous women out in the audience. We were working it for each other, the bands, everything. It was amazing."
While many of the acts that appeared at The Bowery worked hard to connect with fans and make friends with the club's staff, club sound man Lee Murphy said The Replacements, alt-music media darlings through much of the '80s, were stunningly boorish at its handful of gigs.
"The Replacements were hideously drunk when they showed up for a sound check, if they showed up for a sound check," Murphy said. "They were just rude bastards. There was never a time that it was easy to work with them. They sucked. They were out-of-tune and if they remembered the lyrics, it was a miracle.
"I loved The Bowery and I loved the experiences I had there, but it was also a job, and the patrons didn't know what it was like to deal with some of the musicians."
MUSIC AND MORE
In addition to live music, The Bowery was also locally renowned for music spun by house DJ Ross Shoemaker, who then performed as DJ Roscoe, and occasional guest DJ Jon Mooneyham, who had an alternative music show on Norman's KGOU-FM around that time.
"We always had a great mix, and we could only get away with it at The Bowery," Shoemaker said. "It was a landing-on-the-moon kind of deal, because we had no radio stations that supported the kind of music we had. It was exciting and it seemed like we were part of something new and we were all discovering all this great music together."
While working at The Bowery was a job and a paycheck with exciting fringe benefits, hanging out at the club held a far deeper significance for some regulars.
Steffie Corcoran, 46, now a senior editor for Oklahoma Today magazine, was first introduced to The Bowery by a punk classmate in Piedmont, and said going to the club in 1982 and 1983 was a defining time in her life.
"For those of us who were there a couple or three times a week, week in and week out, The Bowery was really a second home for us, in a very homogenized state that we love dearly, we felt that we found our tribe," Corcoran said. "It was a very powerful thing for a young woman.
"I don't want to be all full of rhetorical and metaphoric flourish here, but the Bowery was a very defining place for me and real central to who I've become as a person and how I look at the world. It was a crazy place, but it was a great place to learn about myself."
The Bowery reunion takes place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at VZD's Restaurant & Club, 4200 N. Western. "C.G. Niebank