SAN DIEGO -- The sprawling entertainment complex at 1202-1220 University Ave. in Hillcrest has been through its share of drama since first being built out in 2008. Three sets of owners had grand visions for the space, starting with Universal Nightclub, which brought a high-class “omnisexual” nightlife experience to the Hillcrest scene.
As summer 2013 came to an end, the third tenant to seek success in the complex, 1202 Nightclub and The Range Kitchen & Cocktails, closed its doors leaving many community members and customers wondering "what happened?"
Universal Nightclub, which held its final party on Jan. 2, 2010, and Eden Nightclub, which closed shortly after San Diego Pride weekend in July 2012, each cited financial and legal difficulties associated with the large complex as among their chief reasons for closure.
Less than a month after Eden’s closure in 2012, SDGLN broke the news that a new tenant would take control of the space at the high-profile intersection of University Avenue and Vermont Street on eastern side of Hillcrest. Upon hearing this news, some community members wondered why anyone would gamble on another nightclub and restaurant in the spot that had already seen two closures in four years at an address many think is "cursed."
Rob Lane was unphased. He and his business partners believed that they had the right formula to make the spot work, and they brought an energy and enthusiasm to the corner that wasn't there before.
The idea was to make the space nothing like the original tenant Universal, which came across to many as snooty, pretentious and overpriced. Hillcrest had never before seen a space like Universal - one that prided itself on velvet ropes and waiting lines, bottle service, and a dress code - and the Gaslamp Quarter-like concept did not sit well with many in the Hillcrest community. The building’s second tenant, Eden, shed many of those things but still tried to be a step above, and many customers struggled getting past what many called “Universal 2.0.”
Focus turns to LGBT community
Lane and his team were determined to do a complete 180 on the place, working to create a nice, but comfortable venue that shed the pretense, high prices and the perception that the club was not a part of the LGBT community.
To drive home that point, Lane was proud to proclaim that he was an openly gay man, unlike the owners of Universal and Eden, who were straight. Lane wanted to make 1202 a place for the community to come together to unwind, mingle, hold community events and fundraisers, while enjoying great music, food and drinks.
Lane was so interested in making the venue about the community that he even turned to the public to help name the nightclub portion of the space. He enlisted the services of SDGLN to run a naming contest through its online pages, in which the name of the nightclub ended up being “1202.”
Shortly after the nightclub and patio space opened in August 2012, Lane’s original Hillcrest business, The Range Kitchen & Cocktails, moved across the street from 1263 University Ave. to the restaurant portion of the 1202-1220 University Ave. complex.
In May, Lane told SDGLN that unbeknown to many in the community, the business went through several difficulties while launching 1202. After purchasing the existing liquor license and entertainment permit for the property, Lane's company had 30 days to file the necessary paperwork for the transfer and reopen for business using the previous license as a temporary usage permit.
Due to delays in signing papers, the seller left Lane’s company with only 72 hours to reopen the business, but had virtually dismantled the property and left the space in disrepair and unable to pass health and fire inspections.
Determined not to lose the liquor license, Lane and his crew went to work fixing everything from lighting and sound equipment to replacing emergency exit signs and fire extinguishers. The venue ended up passing inspection and was ready to open at the end of the 72-hour timeline, albeit in makeshift fashion.
The venue opened at the end of summer 2012, and Lane and his staff told the community that major renovations would soon occur and when complete, customers would find a venue that would be like no other. But by May, 10 months after the club opened, many in the community began to question if these improvements would ever happen as the venue remained fairly barren with little changes or improvements made.
Knowing that nightlife customers can be fickle and impatient, Lane wanted to make sure that the community knew that his intentions were good and that changes would soon come.
Lane told SDGLN about numerous difficulties he had with permits, licenses and other issues since opening the business but that he was continuing to fight to make the space the best it could be.
“We’re not trying to be Rich’s, Flicks, Urban Mo’s or any other iconic Hillcrest venue; we want to have our own place in the community, for the community,” Lane told SDGLN in May.
Lane continued to remain positive on the outside and assured his staff, partners and customers that the business would soon take off.
Roadblocks, stress and serious health issues
Many people did not know that Lane was suffering, financially and physically. The Range and 1202 struggled to get off the ground, and Lane was quietly battling lymphoma along with several personal and relationship issues. His stress level was becoming unbearable.
Jay Taylor, Lane’s former life partner, said that through these struggles, Lane “did the best he knew how to do.”
“Rob hoped for the best and had a great vision, but just couldn't get it off the ground,” Taylor told SDGLN in an exclusive interview last week.
The venture and all of the plans that Lane had were falling apart, and the business was struggling to make a profit.
“The business never seemed to get the full support of the community,” Taylor said.
While most of the employees, management and partners of 1202/The Range were unaware that the business was struggling, Lane wanted to protect everyone and kept on smiling, Taylor said.
“Rob wanted to keep people positive,” Taylor said. “He wasn't trying to deceive people, he just believed he could turned things around. He also felt a sense of personal failure and had trouble expressing that.”
Taylor now believes that Lane and his partners jumped into the 1202 venture way too quickly, and were unexpectedly saddled with so many unexpected roadblocks along the way.
Taylor said that when it became clear that the business was not doing well and some of the other investors began to back away, Lane stepped up and began investing much of his own money into the venture to cover all of the shortfalls.
“Rob was not willing to let this place fail - and he was so committed that he put everything he earned into it and personally took the responsibility,” Taylor said. “He took a big risk on this place.”
On top of the business difficulties Lane was facing, his relationship with Taylor was over and his health was suffering. Taylor said he believes that Lane had trouble maintaining an appropriate work/life balance and did not know who to seek out to confide in.
While the community celebrated, Rob Lane suffered
June 26, 2013 was a day of celebration for the LGBT community. The U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled in two landmark marriage equality cases that involved California’s Proposition 8 law and the Defense of Marriage Act.
In San Diego, a march, rally and celebration were planned in Hillcrest, and the festivities happened very near the 1202 complex. Many revelers packed 1202/The Range after the rally and march to continue the celebration.
But Lane was not there, and he likely was unaware of what had happened that day in the nation's capital.
Early that morning, according to family and friends, Lane suffered a physical and mental breakdown, rendering him incapacitated. Lane would later be transferred to a long-term nursing facility in Idaho, so he could be near his immediate family.
Shortly after the breakdown and Lane's departure from San Diego, the other two business partners realized how much the business was struggling and that it was best to close down The Range and 1202.
Taylor said that Lane is very lucky to be surrounded by his family, many whom come to visit him each day.
Lane's mother, Gloria Smith, told SDGLN last week that her son is recovering and getting better each day.
"He's talking, walking, is using his iPad and phone again," Smith said. "We expect him to be discharged [from the nursing facility] at the end of the month and move in with family to continue recuperating."
Jay Taylor speaks out
Taylor told SDGLN that he wanted to reach out to the community because all of the rumors that are circulating about the business's closure.
Around the time of San Diego Pride in July, many in the community gossiped that the venue would close, but no one really knew for sure. The venue’s patio bar continued to operate on weekends for another month after Pride, as the remaining two owners hoped to make a dent in some of the company's debt.
SDGLN reported on the venue’s closure, which happened exactly one year after its opening party.
Through this interview, Taylor said he wanted to make sure that former employees, customers, vendors and community members knew what really happened and to squash any rumors that might still be circulating.
“Rob is not a bad person and cared very much about this community,” Taylor said.
Lesson to share: Cherish all relationships
Taylor hopes that community members will take this as an opportunity to evaluate their friendships and relationships, and remember to cherish them because no one ever knows when a relationship will end.
He also hopes that the community will take better care of itself and be there when someone is in need.
“While we can only do so much for people, make sure your friends and loved ones know that you care,” Taylor said.
Taylor expressed his thanks and appreciation to anyone and everyone who was a part of Range1202, including the staff and loyal customers.
Moving on with his life, Taylor, who was frequently seen by Lane’s side at most of 1202’s major events, said he is trying to rebuild his life and figure out his next move.
He is looking for permanent employment and hopes to remain in San Diego, unless his job search takes him back home to the L.A. area or beyond.
What's next for this space?
A fourth tenant will be moving into the space next month, with a slightly different business model. The popular Mo’s Universe family of restaurants will move their Gossip Grill restaurant and bar into the restaurant and patio portion of the space.
Gossip Grill, which caters to the lesbian community, will be the first tenant to break free from the large nightclub space at 1202 University Ave., only using the patio bar and restaurant at 1220 University Ave.
It is unclear what will become of the nightclub space at 1202, but many believe it will be used for a retail business since it is at the busy intersection of Vermont and University.
Many community members have expressed excitement at Gossip Grill’s move to this location, and the Mo’s Universe team is confident that this will be a good move for them.
Should Gossip Grill be successful at this space, it will, in a sense, be a success for Lane.
“Rob really cared about the community and loved being a part of Hillcrest,” Taylor said. “He wanted to save this space for the community.”
The next chapter of this corner’s life is yet to be told, but according to Taylor, if it helps create a better community, Lane would be happy.