WITH a name like We Barbarians, drummer Nathan Warkentin's rock trio seems fated to play loud. But on a recent Saturday, the group threw out the rule book. Warkentin, 26, blamed the change on the atypical setting -- the multipurpose Long Beach space called Open.
"We're playing at a bookstore. You got to treat it with reverence," says the rocker who typically plays at clubs like the Silverlake Lounge and Detroit Bar. For 30 or so minutes, soulful, acoustic music ruled -- teasing a crowd of more than 50 with hints of rock 'n' roll frenzy.
It was a tension that Open co-owners Shea M. Gauer, 32, and Se Reed, 27, could live with. When the veteran bookstore clerks debuted their business in November 2003, they vowed to create a meeting place that would host more than mere author signings. They wanted to schedule events that would make nightclub owners jealous.
In December, indie-rock pioneer Jonathan Richman played Open. Experimental Los Angeles rockers Languis played a week later. Yet Reed wanted the events to not only be about music, but almost every kind of media. It's why she and Gauer call their boutique a literary art gallery instead of a bookstore.
Hence, the name. "It's about being open to new ideas and new experiences," Reed says.
Author Dan Fante, a star on the independent publishing scene, appeared in December, and the Jan. 26 show by We Barbarians doubled as an art opening.
On display was the collage-style art of Matt Maust, bassist for indie-rock darlings Cold War Kids. The art was used for the band's 2006 album "Robbers & Cowards." Maust typically exhibits at galleries. "It's not so much about the art," Maust, 28, says of showing at Open. "It's about people and the books."
The people sip chai lattes or wine and browse a store decorated with old typewriters for vintage pulp paperbacks, used books and works from independent publishers such as Long Beach's Burning Shore Press.
Gauer claims no special advantages in booking independent stars. Rather, he said he lays long sieges to artists. He spent one year talking with Maust to find the right time to do an art show at Open.
His hard work is adding to the independent character of Open's neighborhood. Long Beach's East 4th and Junipero Avenue is known as Retro Row for its concentration of vintage fashion and furniture shops.
It attracts patrons such as Rebecca Cherkoss, a theater teacher who attended the Jan. 26 show and liked the boutique's slice of alternative culture.
"Unfortunately," she says, "this is rare."
WHERE: 2226 E. 4th St., Long Beach
NEXT EVENT: Readings from the UC Irvine arts journal Octopus, 7 p.m. Feb. 23
INFO: (562) 499-6736; www.thestoryofopen.com