Music

Downtown L.A.'s Regent Theater finally opens tonight

After eight years of coveting it, two years of owning it and nine months of almost finishing the job, Mitchell Frank’s Spaceland Productions is finally throwing the doors open on the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Friday night.

“It feels so, so good,” Frank said Thursday afternoon inside Love Song, the venue’s attached bar. “Everyone’s so excited to show the world what we’ve done, to tell our friends and family, ‘This is why I couldn’t make it to dinner for the last two years.’ ”

The 1,100-capacity venue, in a century-old theater in the Old Bank District, held a soft opening Thursday night for guests before its concert schedule formally begins Friday night.

The theater opens with the two-night Downtown Festival, which will feature YACHT, Connan Mockasin, Jerome LOL and a slate of other acts. Future concerts, curated by longtime Echo and Echoplex booker Liz Garo, include FKA Twigs, Death From Above 1979, Cold War Kids and Bela Fleck in the following months. 

But of course, the real star this weekend is the new venue. 

Anyone who saw the space when it was a Jack White pop-up venue or briefly operated by the indie station Little Radio will find it delightfully unrecognizable. The sloped floor, gothic ceiling arches and jazz-age plaster molding details have remained, but the rest of the venue has been built into a space befitting the current downtown aesthetic. It’s modern in amenities, but with flourishes nodding to the regal atmosphere of downtown’s pre-World War II boulevards.

The sight lines from the newly built mezzanine level give the space an intimacy that other venues its size often struggle to maintain. For dancier nights, it’ll be a fine spot where you can catch your breath and watch the heaving crowd; for more formal live shows, there’ll be no bad angle to see a performer’s hands moving onstage. Regent’s custom-fitted sound system lends sub-bass and power to dance music and precision to gentler fare like acoustic folk.  

On Thursday night, guests milled about in the two bars and restaurants attached to the live room. One, Love Song, hits the same note that Pete’s did 10 years ago when it opened on the same block -- clean, bright and with enough vintage ephemera to feel like it’s been here for years (a decommissioned upright piano, serving as a bar top, really had been there for decades in a back storeroom). Prufrock Pizzeria blew through its stores of Neopolitan slices in a just a couple hours, but both will be open in a week or so as entities separate from the ticketed concerts inside. 

It’s the end of a long road for Frank and his production-firm partners at Knitting Factory and Arts & Recreation, who had seemingly been perpetually just a few months away from opening the doors since 2012. Among the many delays included running appropriate power and water lines into the venue while preserving its historical structure, building the mezzanine to contemporary earthquake standards (“Seriously, when the big one hits, run inside the Regent, this will be the last place left standing in L.A.,” Frank joked) and about 50 or so shows he had to cancel or reschedule as construction stretched months longer than planned.

But for anyone who had been waiting to see if he would ever finish the Regent, the answer is yes, and it could be a transformative space for downtown -- and for a promotion company that has helped define local music. 

“I’ve wanted to be downtown for a long time, and there are a lot of high expectations about what this is going to do for the neighborhood,” Frank said. “I don’t know if we’re going to replicate what we’ve done in Silver Lake and Echo Park.

“For me, we’re just going to do what we do, because we’ve been doing it for a while and helped develop talent, promoters, festivals, genres,” he said. “We’re just going to do what what we do best here.”

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