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Last call for the Echo Lounge 

Janet Ridgeway opened the Echo Lounge in East Atlanta on Oct. 31, 1998 -- but it wasn't until Jan. 8 that she finally took the club's stage.

Shortly before the genre-bending band Kingsized started its encore of Elvis covers in commemoration of the King's birthday, Ridgeway grabbed the mic and told the sold-out crowd they were watching an even more monumental rock event: the Echo Lounge's last live performance.

The crowd responded with loud boos, even though Ridgeway announced that drinks for the rest of the night would be free.

In fact, it was the right to sell alcohol that has caused problems for Ridgeway and the Echo Lounge. In July, the Echo was raided by Atlanta police officers who discovered Ridgeway had been serving booze under a restaurant liquor license for six years -- even though the club has never been a full-service restaurant.

The club's liquor license was immediately revoked, and concerts scheduled for the days after the July raid were either canceled or hastily shifted to other venues.

Nine days later, at a city of Atlanta License Review Board meeting, Ridgeway was called to the carpet for having the wrong kind of liquor license. At that meeting, she began the application process for obtaining a nightclub liquor license rather than a restaurant one. "I should have done it a couple of years earlier," Ridgeway says. "I just didn't think it was that big a deal."

But as she navigated the complex layers of red tape to get the club's license back, Ridgeway encountered obstacles that she says proved insurmountable.

"I don't want to go through this another year," she says. "They just seemed so determined to shut me down."

"They" are the seven members of the city's License Review Board, the committee that, over the past 10 months, has revoked the liquor licenses for the gay nightclubs Backstreet and Metro, as well as Buckhead hotspots Chaos and Fluid. All but Fluid had been scenes of violent crime or drug busts.

Attempts to reach License Review Board Chairman Barney Simms were unsuccessful. Still, the board's behavior is hardly surprising given Ridgeway's liquor license snafu.

Meanwhile, Ridgeway says she'll likely sell her 15-year lease on the building that used to house the Echo Lounge.

So it is that Atlanta begins 2005 by losing one of its last remaining mid-sized rock venues, a stage that saw the likes of popular indie-rock acts such as the White Stripes, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Drive-By Truckers. The Masquerade is also scheduled to close later this year, and last year saw the closing of the Cotton Club and the 9 Lives Saloon.

"What a shame," says 99X DJ and music director Jay Harren, when told about the Echo Lounge closing. "There are other venues out there, but the Echo Lounge was sought out by bands of a certain caliber that won't want to play other venues where you don't have the East Atlanta vibe."

However, three new live music venues -- two smaller than the 450-seat Echo and one larger -- could be opening in East Atlanta in the coming year.

After four years of effort, the 680-seat, 70-year-old Madison Theater on Flat Shoals Avenue may finally be restored as a blues and jazz club to be named -- oddly enough -- "Wiggles," according to Scott Jeffries, who works for DuBose Companies, the firm hired to manage the property. A piano bar called Black Note is planned for the space across the street from the Madison that used to be occupied by Panacea Salon. And construction has begun on the Graveyard Tavern, just a couple of doors down from the Gravity Pub on Glenwood Avenue.

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