Steve Ross Celebrates 30 Years of Owning The Vogue
Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Stephanie Duncan
A signed bronze star was given to Carl Neisse, original owner of The Vogue, by friends of his from Hollywood to commemorate its opening in 1938. Autographs on the bronze star include 28 of the biggest names in Hollywood circa 1938. A few were from Indiana, including Carole Lombard who is from Fort Wayne. Other movie stars include John Barrymore, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple and Barbara Stanwyck. Neisse owned the venue for the first 18 years.
The first movie to premiere was “College Swing” with Burns and Allen, Martha Raye and Bob Hope. Comedians Olsen and Johnson ceremonially bought the first two tickets to the venue at a cost of $0.25 for adults and $0.15 for children.
The signed bronze star was lost for a period of 20-25 years before current owner Steve Ross was able to track it down. The star is now a permanent fixture in the sidewalk in front of the box office.
Steve was born in Indianapolis and split his childhood between Washington, Indiana and Indy’s north side where he attended Park School, Northview and started high school at North Central. Steve graduated from Washington High School and then earned a degree in radio and television from Indiana University. After graduating, Steve moved to Chicago to break into the radio scene when his older brother, John, asked if he wanted to buy The Bluebird.
After moving from Chicago to Bloomington, Steve found a partner and bought The Bluebird in October 1981. “My brother had me work at The Vogue for six months as boot camp to see if I liked it,” says Steve. “I started as a door man, did security, became a bartender, handled payroll and loved every minute of it.”
John then sold Steve The Vogue in 1986. He also bought The Patio and owned it until it closed, and Steve owned Jake’s in Bloomington which he bought in 1991. Steve sold both The Bluebird and Jake’s to his booking manager, Dave Kubiak, in 2004.
Where the idea originated to convert the historic Vogue theater into a nightclub is one of family controversy. Their mom, Linda Hanika, a former real estate developer, takes full credit for the concept. John strongly disputes this assertion. Steve chooses to wisely remain neutral on the issue.
“May of 1986 is when I bought The Vogue from John,” says Steve. “That’s when it got really fun. I have been able to maintain this as a cool entertainment venue by keeping up the original vibe.”
“You’ve made it if you have played at The Vogue,” says Blues Guitarist and New York Blues Hall of Fame inductee Beki Brindle Scala. “The Vogue is to rock and roll what the Slippery Noodle is to blues.” Brindle grew up near Broad Ripple and now lives in Woodstock, NY.
In the mid-‘90s, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had a band and performed a benefit concert at The Vogue. “He brought in his friend Stephen Stills, who played with them throughout the entire gig,” says Steve.
During a concert to benefit Riley Children’s Hospital (before Peyton’s name graced a different children’s hospital wing), Peyton Manning was on stage throwing footballs into the crowd. “We wanted one in the balcony, and boom! He was crazy accurate,” shares Steve. “Having Peyton Manning throwing footballs from The Vogue stage was a bit surreal.”
“Musician David Crosby was a solid individual and so humble,” recalls Steve, who spoke with Crosby after his performance in 1988 with Graham Nash. “As I expressed gratitude to him for playing in my club, Crosby says, ‘No, thank you for having us,’ and this guy could fill any stadium with Crosby, Stills and Nash.”
Between 2002-2005, The Vogue hosted four sold out shows with Willie Nelson. “Those shows sold out in a flash. It’s so incredible he was willing to play a smaller venue. Each time, he would come out and play 2½ hours straight,” says Steve. “He’d start out with his acoustic guitar and sometimes was accompanied by members of his family, but it was just an incredible show each time. Willie Nelson was a taskmaster. He came in, performed and left.”
In 2003, John Mellencamp toured with Joss Stone. Stone headlined a show during that tour at The Vogue, and Mellencamp performed a couple songs with her. “He was in the audience just to see her perform,” recalls Steve. “While rehearsing earlier in the day, Joss Stone came up into our office to say hello to everyone, barefoot.”
A surprise show occurred with Bonnie Raitt in 1989. During her performance, John Fogarty, who is good friends with Bonnie and was on tour simultaneously, surprised everyone by showing up and playing three to four songs with Bonnie. “That was a magical night,” says Steve. “We had no idea he was coming. It was such a thrill.”
It’s incredible to think about all of the bands who have graced the stage at The Vogue: Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Avett Brothers, the BoDeans, Johnny Cash, Meatloaf, David Byrne, Morris Day and The Time, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and many, many more. To see the bands since ’81, go to thevogue.com/concert-history.
Local fan favorites include Yacht Rock Revue. Roadmaster, which began playing in the early ‘70s, included Toby Myers, the bass player for Mellencamp. Of course, there’s the Alligator Brothers with their occasional revival and the Carl Storie Band.
Another band that was big in the ‘70s was The Late Show. They played all over and were a popular draw at The Bluebird and The Vogue. They are still playing gigs, and their lead, Don Main, is also one of the founders of Puccini’s. “Don’s a great example of a true musician that has maintained his enthusiasm for playing in a band,” says Steve.
While Steve enjoys booking and showcasing talent, he also plays a 12-string acoustic guitar. “It’s more for sitting around with a couple friends and playing sort of thing,” says Steve. “Someone said to me, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’”
After owning nightclubs for 35 years, Steve says creating events that bring people together is what he enjoys the most. His latest endeavor is Walk The Talk: Creating An Epic Shift with Richard Brendan. The topics include Love and Action, Compassion and Miracles with additional events scheduled. “This is a TED-type of format but more of a spiritual nature. We hold auditions and rehearsals prior to the event,” shares Steve. “I am really enjoying this format. We will see where it leads.”
Through music, Steve is walking his talk. “The Vogue, as always, will continue to bring in the best entertainment,” he says. Steve is celebrating his anniversary quietly. The staff has thrown him a party, but he prefers to celebrate in a different way: he is resurrecting The Taste of Broad Ripple, to be held June 17, 2017.
With live bands on multiple stages including Polka Boy and 20+ food vendors from across the Village, attendees will be invited to eat, drink and celebrate great music and great food in a family-friendly environment. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to Second Helpings. “I am really looking forward to this giant block party for Broad Ripple,” says.
Please visit TheVogue.com for showtimes and dates. Follow The Vogue on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. For Walk The Talk, please see their Facebook page.