If that sounds like a really weird dream or a comically psychedelic experience, it was par for The Where House’s course. While no one ever said, “If you need drugs, go to The Where House,” there were often plenty of people cruising under some kind of psychotropic chemical enhancement. Most people had the decency not to fire up a doob inside, but outdoors, the back courtyard usually smelled like Bob Marley’s jacket.
Early on, before he worked at The Where House, Grisel helped Smith pull a guy out of a sewer drain down the street. He was tripping, dropped his phone down the drain, and went in after it.
“That sounds crazy, but it was really just the tip of the iceberg with The Where House weirdness,” Grisel said. “Every hole in the wall at the place has a story.”
Other weirdness included a guy named Charles who, for a brief period in 2011, set up a burger-grilling operation on the back patio.
“He made good cheeseburgers, but he had this chick working with him,” Grisel said. “She was in her 30s, and for whatever reason, he told us she was his daughter, which was fine except for when we caught them making out. We made him leave after that.”
Then there was the skate ramp, a quarter-pipe in the back courtyard that butted against the rolltop garage door of a small loading dock. Grisel, a skateboarder himself, would pay money or give free cover to anyone landing the best tricks.
“My friend Brendan O’Connor was up on the catwalk above the ramp, chugging Jameson,” Grisel said. “He stepped off the ledge in this tail-drop and landed it perfectly. Easily one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. If you were a bystander and saw that happen you’d be impressed. If you were a skateboarder, you’d say, ‘Damn, that’s some real shit.’ ”
The sketchiness wasn’t all fun and games, however. In the early days, Where House patrons were regularly robbed and had their cars broken into in the parking lot of the nearby Dollar Store, the only business where Where House fans could park.
“Some girlfriends of mine were held up at gunpoint,” Ofeno said. “That was pretty scary.”
Additionally, the rehearsal space in the smaller building on the property, at the time rented by the band Apache 5, was broken into — the thieves went to the trouble of sledge-hammering a hole in a brick wall to steal about $8,000 worth of musical equipment.
Eventually, Smith hired more security. “At one point, I had Ryan Speares and [Grisel’s younger brother] Rangely on the roof with binoculars and walkie-talkies,” but The Where House always maintained a vibe of low-level danger.
The place could be sketchy in other ways. The coordinator of one charity event, who asked not to be named, had lots of questions about the less-than-expected money his group made when all was said and done. “It was a packed house, and at the end of the night Casey gave me a lot less than I thought we would’ve made from that many people,” he said. “We never had a contract, and all we agreed on was that the room cost was $300. But then there was $125 for the door guy, $125 for the sound guy, Porta-Potty rental — just a bunch of extra fees he never told us about.”
Jamie Kinser, co-owner of local booking agency Blackbox Presents, chalked that up to Smith’s early inexperience in running a venue. “We’ve all heard stories of sketchy payouts, but it’s never happened to me,” she said. “I don’t think it was ever malicious, just a function of The Where House’s wheels-off nature.”
“I honestly don’t remember anyone getting shortchanged,” Smith said. “And usually if there weren’t enough people at an event, the money came out of my pocket and the staff’s pocket — they’d make half of what they were supposed to, and I wouldn’t make anything. And if people thought I ripped them off, no one has ever said anything about it to me.”
Despite the dubious legality of the liquor, the potential for mugging, the allegedly shifty show payouts, and creepy dudes grilling burgers, The Where House thrived as a multi-purpose party space.
The shows got bigger and bigger. Popular local bands like Ice Eater, War Party and other acts associated with Near Southside indie label Dreamy Soundz made the place their home. Dreamy Soundz recorded two compilations there, Group Therapy, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
The space has been a set for a couple small films and video shoots for bands like Whiskey Folk Ramblers, The Longshots, and Vincent Neil Emerson & The Old Souls. It’s been used for wedding receptions and massive TCU fraternity and sorority parties. Q Cinema has held its festival wrap parties there. Local art collective Piranha Bear was one of the first to present a non-music event at The Where House, turning the venue into a maze of partitions hung with work from local artists.
As the shows grew, Ofeno believes, a turning point was reached.
“When Casey moved to catering, he had to make the shows worth having the bar in there,” she said. “The focus became more on how many people came instead of how creative you could make the party.”
But even without the chicken-wire and papier-mâché dinosaurs, the concerts were impressive in their own right. Up 2 Eleven Entertainment’s 2012 Rock-a-tron event — an all-day punk fest headlined by national bands Guttermouth, The Queers, and Propaghandi — drew 700 people.
“That second Rock-a-tron, the one at The Where House — that was our biggest,” said Jared Ahmed, who helped book the show. “What we liked the most is [that] it always felt like a house party rather than a venue.”
Lots of other national acts played The Where House, including Acid Mother’s Temple, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Stardeath and White Dwarfs, Das Racist (whose shows were “easily the craziest,” Smith said), and Brave Combo.