This past Tuesday morning, residents at legendary underground punk venue Burnt Ramen woke to discover their Richmond home broadcasted all over the internet — including Mayor Tom Butt himself describing their residence as the city’s “own Ghost Ship.”
This turn of events prompted several housemates to bug out, leaving in anticipation of TV news showing up at their doorstep. And, sure enough, a local ABC 7 news crew appeared later that day, December 6, for what residents say was an ambush-style interview — complete with a helicopter.
A segment aired that evening, which described Burnt Ramen as “an off-the-radar nightclub.” In the aftermath, the city scheduled an inspection of the property on December 16.
Burnt Ramen has existed at the same location in Richmond for nearly 20 years, hosting countless iconic bands from around the world and nurturing the local punk, metal, and alternative scenes for generations of kids.
The venue is not a permitted place for shows, but it’s not a business, either, as emphasized in the 2005 documentary about the house, The Ramen Days. The amount of money changing hands is minuscule — essentially just enough to tip bands and to pay them gas money and traveling expenses.
But last week, after Ghost Ship, Mayor Butt put a new spotlight on Burnt Ramen, writing in an email release that it “has no business license” and that “it has never been inspected.”
But Burnt Ramen owner Mike Malin — better known as Mykee Ramen — told the Express that Burnt Ramen has been “inspected by the fire Marshall twice. Both times only minor upgrades were required” during walkthroughs in 2003 and 2006. Since, he says Ramen turns away bands that would draw excessively large crowds.
“It’s unfortunate that the mayor’s first response to this crisis is to call out our house by its address on national news,” Malin said.
Now, after the mayor’s remarks, residents are uncertain about the fabled spot’s future.
Brandon Bailey, a third generation Richmond resident who’s lived at Ramen for eight years, said he might try to live in a car if his home gets shut down.
There’s been an increased number of reports of landlords and government officials investigating unconventional living spaces all over the country on the heels of the Ghost Ship tragedy. In Baltimore, artists were evicted from the Bell Foundry warehouse collective on Monday. And more than two dozen tenants at fellow Richmond artist collectives ArtSpace and Bridge Storage went out on Friday.
Richmond’s mayor clarified in a conversation with the Express that he didn’t necessarily want to evict and shut down Burnt Ramen. He described the location as “grandfathered-in,” and said it could become a nonprofit — but, even then, it would require inspection every three years, he added.
Butt explained that he’s been an architect for years, so he knows about code enforcement and has dealt with it extensively, and feels strongly about regulations. “It kind of bothers me when somebody says, ‘You know, I don’t have to do that, you know. I’m whatever. I’m an artist.’ Or ‘I can’t afford it,’ or … ‘This law doesn’t apply to me,’” he said.
“You [can’t] operate something there that otherwise is illegal or doesn’t meet other codes.”
Burnt Ramen’s website actually bills itself as “An Unsafe Place for All Ages” — which originally was meant as a joke, but one that Butt pointed out, and Malin acknowledged, is no longer funny in the wake of Ghost Ship.
Malin said he’d happily change the slogan —if he could recover his password to Burnt Ramen’s website, which hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.
In the meantime, Burnt Ramen’s cleared its calendar and several shows have moved to Oakland Metro.
He hopes the house itself doesn’t get shut down. “If it’s over, if not one more band gets to know the pure joy of unleashing an avalanche of glorious cacophony in our house, I will feel it has been a worthwhile endeavor,” Malin said.