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Slave Pit Inc.: Metal band feeds its following

Michael Thompson August 11, 2014 4
Brad Roberts, Bob Gorman, and Mike Derks of GWAR are getting ready to open their first restaurant, GWARbar. Photos by Michael Thompson.

Brad Roberts, Bob Gorman, and Mike Derks of GWAR are getting ready to open their first restaurant, GWARbar. Photos by Michael Thompson.

An established Richmond restaurateur, an investor from Maryland and a band of interplanetary warriors make up the crew behind the newest Jackson Ward restaurant.

GWARbar, named for the crude Richmond-based heavy metal band GWAR, is slated to open at 217 W. Clay St. in September.

The venture includes members of the band, along with Travis Croxton of Grace Street restaurant Rappahannock and businessman Jonathan Staples.

They plan to transform the 6,300-square-foot Clay Street building into the newest revenue stream that helps feed Slave Pit Inc., an eclectic collection of businesses operated by past and present GWAR members.

“We’re artists first and businessmen second, which is why we teamed up with people,” said Bob Gorman, one of GWAR’s vocalists. “It’s definitely a new type of venture for us.”

Gorman is one of 18 members of Slave Pit Inc. From the Slave Pit headquarters in Scott’s Addition, the company peddles a GWAR beer, its own brand of e-cigarette liquid, and runs four practice studios that it leases out to local bands.

Gwar performs in elaborate costumes and masks under alternate identities.

Gwar performs in elaborate costumes and masks under alternate identities.

A Grammy-nominated metal band founded in Richmond in the 1980s, GWAR is known for its elaborate stage costumes that it makes at the Slave Pit. At GWAR concerts, fans are sprayed with fake blood as the effigies of world leaders, historical icons and celebrities are mutilated on stage.

With its new restaurant, the band has brought on two partners that have their hands in less gruesome projects around Richmond.

Jonathan Staples, through Chaos Theory LLC, bought the Clay Street building in May for $350,000. Staples is part of a firm that owns the former Belvidere at Broad property at 506 W. Broad St. He also owns the James River Distillery space at 2700 Hardy St. and is a partner in the liquor maker.

Staples was a college friend of Dave Brockie, the lead vocalist for GWAR and a founding member of the band who died earlier this year.

Mike Derks, a longtime GWAR guitarist, said Brockie spearheaded the idea to open a restaurant and that Staples introduced the band to Rappahannock’s Croxton.

GWARbar will open at next month.

GWARbar will open at 320 E. Clay St. next month.

“This is an idea we’ve been working on for two years now,” Derks said.

Staples and Croxton are friends connected by a few degrees of separation in the local restaurant world. Staples’ wife, Hilda Staples, and Croxton own stakes in the forthcoming Graffiato restaurant. And Croxton’s wife, Kristi Croxton, is a partner at James River Distillery.

Travis Croxton said when he met Staples and GWAR members to discuss GWARbar, he immediately wanted in on it.

Croxton said GWARbar will be able to distinguish itself from other band-themed restaurants and bars.

“This is one of the only places where the band is a huge part of the kitchen,” he said.

Derks, who currently bartends at Social 52 in the Fan, is designing the menu for GWARbar and will work in the kitchen and behind the bar.

“Working in restaurants is the one job I’ve been able to keep since I’ve been on the road,” Derks said.

Derks said GWARbar will serve junk food-style fare with better ingredients. That may include house-made hot dogs and GWAR’s own take on Doritos, Twinkies, and SpaghettiOs.

Renovations on the Clay Street building, which used to be an old juke joint called Crossroads, will cost about $150,000. The GWARbar team raised $21,811 in June through Indiegogo, a crowd-funding website.

“GWAR is known for its art about as much as it is for its music,” said Derks, who also bartends at Social 52 Kitchen. “Art will be incorporated into the bar.”

While the band still has plans to tour and is working on new material, it may not stop with just one GWARbar.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of an empire,” Derks said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the address of the property that will become GWARbar. The address is 217 W. Clay St.

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4 Comments »

  1. Bruce Milam August 11, 2014 at 9:15 am - Reply

    I wish the boys luck. I worked with them awhile several years ago to find a new home for their various enterprises and it didn’t work out at that time. I’m sure Dave would be proud of them for sticking together and opening this restaurant.

  2. Chip Mangum August 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    Congrats & best of luck to the guys.

    FYI – Crossroads was not an “old juke joint ” but a respectful bar/restaurant with good jazz & dinning catering more to a “mature” audience, opposed to the other “douche magnet’ bars springing up in the residential areas of J-Ward.

  3. Ben Partridge August 13, 2014 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Welcome to the neighborhood. I met a couple of the guys on site recently. Look forward to partaking in the new venture when it opens.

    My partners and I are renovating the upstairs 3 bed/ 2 bath apt next door if anyone is looking to move close by.

  4. Ashley Smith August 15, 2014 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Honestly, I don’t think that this type of business and target demographic is what Jackson Ward needs. Oregon Hill would’ve been a better fit.
    Not to mention, there’s something weird about Slave Pit being in Jackson Ward, doesn’t have a good ring at all.
    To each their own, but Jackson Ward has been attracting young couples and families as of late, not the grunge metal tenants that made up a lot of the neighborhood 5+ years ago.

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