Located underground, One Caroline is carved into the corner of Caroline Street and Broadway. Passersby peer into the basement window along the sidewalk, see the “One” over the door, or read the sandwich board on the street, but they never quite know what’s going on. It’s a mysterious place. When you step inside, it’s as if you’re entering an old-school club or speakeasy, which of course, is the point – One Caroline still exudes that jazz club ambiance that it’s cultivated over the years. The checkerboard floor, lacquered wooden tables, brick accents and club lighting, as well as the black and white photos that adorn the walls. They all tell a story. Recently, with Super Dark Mondays and its new approach to booking music, the restaurant has added the next chapter to that story.
Over the years, One Caroline has experienced some ups and downs. In 2014, the restaurant opted to close on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings, which were notoriously slow nights. At the same time, its late-night atmosphere needed some adjustments in order to appeal to a wider crowd and shake off the perception that it had become home base for pick-up artists and old-timers. Manager Jakob Moore, who was charged with pumping some new life into the place, set out to make the post-dinner environment more inviting, comfortable and interesting.
“The space has been evolving and growing,” Moore says. “We needed to make some changes.” The addition of craft beverages and a revised menu helped kickstart the process, but a new direction for live entertainment was the key to reinventing One Caroline after dark. “We looked for music that will open up the doors on a Monday,” Moore notes. “Music that appealed to a different crowd, a younger crowd.”
Enter Bob Carlton and Shane Sanchez.
Nearly a year ago, Carlton, who is a singer and guitarist for the band Dryer, was approached by One Caroline’s owner to book live music for the space. At first, Carlton admits he wasn’t sure it was a fit. “If I took over the booking, I didn’t want it to be a Band-Aid scenario,” Carlton says. “I wanted to mix it up, experiment, help transition One Caroline to a venue that explores new ideas, not just maintain it as restaurant that has some music.” Pondering the offer, Carlton stopped by the restaurant during setup, where he was surprised to hear the British post-punk band Gang of Four blasting from the speakers. “That was it. I was sold,” he says. “Where else in Saratoga could I hear Gang of Four?” In that instant, he understood that One Caroline and Moore were open to music beyond the jazz, blues, and folk that One Caroline had historically presented.
At the same time, Shane Sanchez, the brains behind Super Dark Collective, kicked off a Monday night music series that seemed to announce a new direction for live music at the restaurant – Super Dark Mondays. The Super Dark Collective is a group of Saratoga-based artists and musicians who joined forces in 2013 to share their work, promote creative projects, and host live events. Super Dark Home Video, their public access television show on Saratoga’s independent television station LookTV, features music videos, live footage, and experimental work by members of the Collective. Super Dark Mondays, the live concert series at One Caroline, is hosted and promoted by the Collective. Sanchez, who is also a bartender at the restaurant, saw an audience that no venue or restaurant in Saratoga was reaching. “There hasn’t been a place to see this type of music,” Sanchez notes. “We’re creating a scene for people who don’t have a place to go.” What started off as a pilot project of sorts quickly gained a following, and Carlton’s bookings on Friday through Sunday have built off of Super Dark Mondays’ success.
So, what type of music are we talking about? Don’t be fooled into thinking that the “Super Dark” label implies only hardcore. Although most of the music defies labels, the bands who’ve performed on Super Dark Mondays are most often called punk, post-punk, synth rock, dark wave, experimental, or noise rock. Sanchez and Carlton have also booked some Americana musicians, DJs, and hip hop artists.
Together Moore, Carlton, and Sanchez have positioned One Caroline as a home for music that didn’t typically make its way to Saratoga Springs. In the process, they’ve built a new audience for live music at One Caroline and a new customer base for the restaurant. But they’re not done. The last several months were just a start.
Carlton and Sanchez both see an opportunity to hatch a music scene in Saratoga apart from the traditional cover bands, singer-songwriters, and open-mic locals who’ve had a presence in the restaurants and venues for years. “Albany and Troy had a scene, but Saratoga Springs never really has,” they say. Bands have taken notice, and as Carlton says, are starting to see Saratoga in a different way.
“Monday is the gem of the nights.” Carlton explains, noting that Super Dark Monday nights bring in a wide range of ages and benefit from significant word of mouth.
“Mondays have been great for rebranding One Caroline,” he says. “It’s had a ripple effect. People in the Troy and Albany music scene have noticed. They’re paying attention. That’s something that hadn’t happened before.”
A sampling of the musicians or bands who’ve recently played One Caroline include Lou Barlow, Matt Valentine, Bunnies, An Atomic Whirl, Home Body, Eternal Crimes, and The Gage Brothers. Upcoming shows include Hisha, T-Byrds, Hill Haints, Frances Dean, Cretin Hop (a DJ hosted club night featuring an array of punk and noise hits), The Bright Road, and Sime Gesuz and Friends presented by Loose Joints. The monthly schedule is impressive, and it’s relentless. As an example, the Sept. 18 show will present four bands, and the Sept. 25 show will present three, and that doesn’t count the weekend shows that are connected to Super Dark. Carlton notes that all shows free, 21 and over, and start exactly at 10 PM. “I feel like we’re doing something right,” says Carlton. “People are talking. People are coming to the shows.”
Business-wise and music-wise, Moore is pleased with the results. “Super Dark Mondays have broken the mold,” he says. One Caroline’s Monday numbers have more than doubled, they’ve built a brand, and they created some momentum. One Caroline is still a restaurant first, and it caters to its dinner crowd with “craft beer,” “creative food,” and traditional dinner music. Mid-week, the residency artists such as Cloud Lifter keep things lively. In essence, One Caroline is having it both ways – it’s supporting its dinner crowd and building a new late-night crowd by experimenting on Super Dark Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Although some who expect jazz may be disappointed to arrive and find no-wave or electropop, there’s no doubt that One Caroline has found an audience who was underserved in Saratoga, and this audience is appreciative.
“Something’s happening. We feel like we’re part of something,” Carlton says. “People finally have a space to come together to hear this music.” He stresses that people feel comfortable and safe, and he says that it’s encouraging to see.