The Casbah Turns 25

MIDDLETOWN – The Casbah, San Diego's iconic music venue on Kettner Blvd – marked by a crescent moon and blood red exterior among the airport parking lots of Middletown – has kickstarted the careers of many important local acts: Rocket from the Crypt, No Knife, Three Mile Pilot, Deadbolt, Silent Comedy. Now some of those bands are revisiting the club where it all began, in honor of the venue's 25th anniversary.

“Sometimes I'm like, oh my god,” says owner Tim Mays, “25 years – it's insane.”

What is it about The Casbah? “Being there in the daytime, it's not the prettiest place – you see all the scars, all the rough edges and stuff, but at night, when it's dark and the lights are on, it's just, it's cool and comfortable.”

“People like playing here because there's been so many amazing, legendary bands that have played here over the years.”

The venue has been on Kettner Blvd on the way to the airport for 21 years. It began a quarter mile north of its current location at the site of a former Irish pub. Mays was able to add a liquor license and let another 100 people in the door when he moved to the corner of Kettner and Laurel Ave.

“We close one night a month, usually…”

Mays stops, raising a finger as a jet comes in for a landing. The airplane pause – part of the Casbah charm. Musicians don't need to do it when they play inside, but in the outdoor area, you stop talking when the planes fly in.

For the last six or seven years, Mays has been hosting a second place for bands, the back room area of the Casbah known as The Atari Lounge. While bands get ready up front, others play in back.

Twice the music, twice the fun – Mays says he is always looking to give talented new groups exposure. “That's the whole goal, to have a band play here and play when they can sell the place out on their own. It's our goal and their goal.”

City leaders, recognizing the importance of the rock club, proclaimed January 14th this year Casbah Day in San Diego.

25 years – and if you look into the crystal ball, what do you see? They have the lease here for another five years, and Mays doesn't plan on retiring anytime soon. He says he wouldn't know what to do with all that free time. “I hope somebody's got a gold watch for me somewhere down the line,” he says, laughing, “something.”

So he'll keep booking new bands, and he'll keep making the magic happen – in the club on the corner near the airport.

“I tried to make it a place that I'd like to come to, and then when you leave, you can't wait to come back.”

In addition to shows at The Casbah all month, there is also a big party honoring Tim Mays this Thursday at the North Park Theater. It will be a night of conversation, stories and surprise musical guests.


Kristen Cusato

Categories: KUSI