First the sushi was gone, then the dance club went silent. Now the questions are piling up.
Electronic music aficionados and fans of Japanese food (like the News Hits staff) are mourning the closing of Oslo, the downtown sushi bar and techno dance club that is now shuttered, likely forever, according to one of the owners.
"It was this unique place, because it seems as if in a good majority of nightlife options in the dance world in Detroit the music is more of a wallpaper for the social aspects of what's going on instead of being the main centerpiece," says Rob Theakston, the longtime Detroit electronic musician who had been scheduled to play Oslo's New Year's Eve show.
Owner Brook Campbell told News Hits the closure resulted from bias against himself as a gay man, disputes with landlords and threats against his life. "I immediately realized this is not something I wanted to continue to do," he told News Hits last week.
But Theakston says rumors of closure were blowing around for a year. "There were a lot of different staff changes over a long period of time," he says.
Opened in April 2004, Oslo's menu included the usual sushi bar offerings of rolls, nigiri, edamame and sashimi. Partners Campbell and Sameer Reddy had worked for about four years to put the place together, according to published reports.
But the paper trail of trouble began at least a year ago. According to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, at least six checks from Oslo in 2005 were returned for insufficient funds. The club was ordered to pay vendors with certified checks, cashier's checks, money orders or cash, state records show.
"I cannot dispute that one, two, three, seven out of a thousand checks written in the past year have come back, but that's not what's at issue here," Campbell says.
According to the City of Detroit finance department, the summer tax bill of $3,640 has not been paid. It was due Aug. 15. Campbell says he had no knowledge of the missed payment.
The club also has operated with several different business names. According to the Michigan Department of Consumer and Liability Services, Oslo Associates LLC, Oslo Detroit LLC, Oslo LLC, and Oslo Inc. have all used the 1456 Woodward Ave. address.
"I think all four are mistaken," Campbell tells News Hits. "The state of Michigan is not known for never making a mistake."
According to Matt Abbott, a former manager, the club stopped paying him and at least some other employees several weeks ago. After the sushi chefs quit in protest, the restaurant closed. The club was open a few more weekends, but the party ended on the evening of Friday, Dec. 15, when Oslo didn't open.
"No one can get a positive answer on what's happening," Abbott says.
And that's left Theakston planning a New Year's Eve home with his pug and reflecting on what Oslo meant to Detroit.
"Oslo was this really unique place where music was given an incredible amount of credence and room to experiment," Theakston says. "It was so diverse. One night you would have Kenny Dixon Jr. and Theo Parrish playing classic 'sco and really obscure house; the next night you would have a gay night like Sass, and then the night after that Houseshoes would be playing hip hop down there."
Waitress Ash Nowak, who also was the gallery curator for rotating art exhibits at Oslo, says she feels sorry for the customers.
"Everyone knew us. Everyone came there, whether it be people that were our loyal dinner crowd or loyal to the music scene. People always showed up," she says.
Owed about $510, Nowak, a Wayne State fine arts major, says she is looking for work.
"It's been so frustrating. We wanted to help it so much because it's such a great place," she says.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]