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New Plans for Lady Byrd

Investors from Raleigh, N.C., plan to open the former Toad's Place on the Canal Walk as the Hat Factory in early September.



Six months after the city's lone Canal Walk music venue went belly-up, a group of investors from Raleigh, N.C., will plunge into the same shallow waters.

The founders of Etix, an international ticket-sales operation, and the owners of Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh plan to open a music club in the former Toad's Place with a yet-to-be named attached restaurant.

Called Hat Factory, after the building's legacy as the Lady Byrd Hat Factory, the club is slated to open in early September.

“We think it's going to be a challenging project,” says investor Ben Wingrove, vice president of sales at Etix, acknowledging the risk in opening on a largely empty waterfront during a recession. “Maybe we'll help get things going on the Canal Walk.”

Hat Factory will replace the defunct Toad's, which opened to much fanfare in June 2007 but shut its doors in early March after defaulting on its lease.

Despite a difficult economy and increased competition from The National, which opened in January 2008, Wingrove says the club will offer unique advantages. In addition to national, regional and local music acts, Hat Factory is setting aside two nights a week as dance nights for college-aged students and country-music lovers — complete with a mechanical bull.

Unlike Toad's Place, which became plagued with management issues, two of the investors are well-versed in the music business. Mark Thompson and Pat Dickinson, owners of the Lincoln Theatre for the last decade, also own a promotion and production company, Ultimate Entertainment. Hat Factory will be managed by Mitch Warnecke, former manager of the Soap Box Laundro-Lounge in Wilmington, N.C.

Restaurateur David Bess, owner of Cha Cha's Cantina, Verbena and Lucky Buddha, will operate the restaurant, which will offer a “unique niche of sandwiches” and “15 different milkshake flavors,” Bess says. The restaurant's dAccor will play up the history via newspaper clippings — “art deco-style up on the walls.”

The biggest difference between Toad's and Hat Factory, Wingrove and Bess say, will be the restaurant's focus on the downtown lunch crowd. The outside seating area overlooking the canal will expand, becoming a focal point, and will feature live music outdoors on Friday afternoons.

The club is tentatively slated to open Sept. 4, with the restaurant opening about a week later.

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