There’s literally no place in the Quad-Cities like Rozz-Tox.
After marking its 10th anniversary in 2021, the quirky café has been closed for renovations for the past couple of months. It will reopen with its dazzlingly diverse lineup, Asian-inspired menu, and offbeat charm on Feb. 11.
During a traditionally slow time of year anyway, the remodel will make the place feel smaller and more intimate, Rozz-Tox owner/manager Ben Fawks said recently.
“I think it’s going to feel a little more comfortable, a little more cozy,” Fawks said, noting there will be fewer live shows. “We’re kind of honing in on the DJ stuff. There are going to be physical changes – like new cabinetry, a DJ booth, a new paint job, new seating. So it’s going to feel different.
“I guess it will be more like quality over quantity,” Fawks said, noting it’ll likely be 2-3 shows a month (compared to about three nights a week pre-pandemic).
“I don’t really want to rely on having shows to bring people in,” Fawks said. “I think it’s more of a personal preference, but also kind of adapting to the times.”
“The hours also will shift to not so much weekday mornings, but 5 p.m. to midnight Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday,” Fawks said.
The first live show back will be “a one-of-a-kind event,” with Ash Lauryn on Feb. 25. There will be a 60-person audience limit. It’s pay what you can, RSVPs online are required, and like all indoor shows at Rozz-Tox, all patrons must be fully vaxxed and masked.
Lauryn (who was here in September 2019) has an “old-school house-head foundation and a digital age suaveness, blending her skills as a deejay, writer, curator, and radio host to champion black dance music,” according to her bio.
Lauryn was nominated for DJ of the Year at the 2021 Bembe DJ Awards and participated in Virgil Abloh’s Off-White SS21 “Imaginary TV” platform. Fawks is thrilled to have her back in Rock Island.
“In the Black house music scene, in the last year and since 2020, she’s just blown up, and that’s been a pleasure to watch that happen,” Fawks said. “She’s a big deal in the DJ international community. She’s played in some of the best clubs in the world over the last year alone.”
It was much harder to book her this year than the first time, Fawks said.
“This recent booking now was going through a management company,” Fawks said. “It was hard to convince them to let us book her in a cafe because she’s playing big clubs in Germany and the UK and America. And, you know, coming back to a small café, that’s going to be a special show because of that.”
From Moline to China, to Rock Island and back
A 40-year-old Moline native, Fawks moved to China shortly after high school and spent most of his 20s there. He returned and opened the Rock Island Rozz-Tox in 2011 with his mother, who passed in December 2017.
Fawks first moved to China to learn the language and culture and found the country nearly opposite of what he thought it would be.
“I felt freer over there than I did here, which was strange because when you think of Communist governments and the kind of restrictions that they have around their people over there, you don’t think of it being a kind of free state,” Fawks said. “Maybe it was partly due to the fact that I was a foreigner, in a different country, but even in retrospect, you know, I definitely felt much freer there than I did and do here.”
Fawks has opened two outposts of Rozz-Tox in China, including a new space in 2020, and has built such a diverse, expansive artist roster over the years, partly due to his eclectic personal tastes and great word of mouth.
“I think there are certain acts and musicians that fit in the space really well, and that has to do with us, the people working and designing the space,” Fawks said. “It’s also the clientele here. Everyone’s giving a piece of themselves to the space and the artists that play here are also a part of that. And I think it just kind of builds up organically and the way that it should.
“Over the years, you make connections with artists, and they introduce you to other artists and booking agents, and after ten years of this, there’s like this national and in some cases international circle of venues and artists and managers and talent buyers.”
289 is a new art space in Guangzhou, China, with lots of different spaces within, and Rozz-Tox has the first-floor space, focusing on electronic and DJ music,” Fawks said. “That is much more in line with what is here in Rock Island and what it’s going to be when we finish this remodel.”
He’s in the process of starting an online radio station, which will feature DJs from Guangzhou and Rock Island Rozz-Tox, to be called Yamaguchi Radio.
Fawks has an Outlet Series, which he calls a carefully curated program that focuses on the avant-garde; sound artists, DJs, experimental music and sounds that cannot be placed into any one genre.
Working to control, prevent Covid
“When there was even a slight scare of a virus floating around, I don’t even think the (Chinese) government needed to tell people to wear masks. It was just second nature,” Fawks said.
Rozz-Tox was one of the first Q-C entertainment venues to have a strict COVID policy.
“We’ve been taking this virus seriously from the beginning,” Fawks said. “So I just wanted to continue that for the people in the building, for our own safety. But also, my clientele at Rozz-Tox, for the most part, is pretty vigilant when it comes to this specific pandemic. And I think if I didn’t put this policy in place, I would have more customers than not asking me why and that I should be doing that.”
Last September, when Rozz-Tox finally restarted live indoor shows, all had a cap of 50 in attendance, and patrons were asked to buy tickets in advance.
“We understand that for some, vaccination requirements raise questions of accessibility and inclusivity, topics that are very important to us,” Fawks posted on the website. “We are choosing to instate this policy not to discriminate, but to create a safe and comfortable environment during this difficult and volatile time.
“We ask for your patience with us as we try to navigate this new world and do what we think is best for everyone. we are as eager as our customers to get past this,” he wrote, noting these requirements:
- All attendees must show proof of vaccination (a photo is acceptable) OR a negative covid test dated up to 3 days prior to entry. If you need help finding where to get the vaccine, or a test, visit https://richd.org/.
- Masks are required to enter the building and to use the restrooms, regardless of vaccination status.
- Please use the hand sanitizer when entering/ leaving the building and the washrooms.
- The outdoor space — patio, garden & terrace — will all be open during shows, and you are welcome to hang out there and order from the window. no ticket or vaccine requirement.
In 2021, while Rozz-Tox was open inside for food and beverage pickup, all shows and films were held outdoors, Fawks said.
“People could come in and order if they wanted. But we had plenty of seating outside,” Fawks said, noting that adding the drive-up service also was popular during Covid.
Rozz-Tox also started a new “Kinogarten” film series with German-American Heritage Center, and he wants to continue more outdoor films.
The GAHC series started last April (named for the German for “film garden”); each film was free, with English subtitles. The films started at 8 p.m. or sundown, and to keep audiences safe, films were socially distanced, and guests were required to wear a mask.
Reducing the indoor capacity to 50 people was half of what it was pre-pandemic.
“And to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll go ever go back to a 100-capacity club,” Fawks said. “It feels kind of nice to have a 50-60 cap, which in a small space like this just feels a lot better than 80 to 100.
The biggest pre-pandemic show was in 2019 with Xiu Xiu, an avant-garde, experimental rock band.
“They’re so versatile, and it’s kind of hard to put them in a single category,” Fawks said. “They’re a pretty well-known band, been around since the early aughts. They have a great record label, lots of fans and followers, and it’s one of those bands that wouldn’t normally come to this area. They tend to stay in larger cities and running around international touring. So it was it was a big deal that we got them to play in a cafe.”
Fawks toyed with the idea of closing Rozz-Tox twice in the past few years – once when his mom passed and then with the 2020 shutdowns.
“I like this community, and this is a great building, but I just wasn’t sure how things were going to pan out,” Fawks said. “I did think about it, but I didn’t make any moves; I think deep down, I really wanted to try to stay and make it work.”
Customers have been supportive with takeout and coming to outdoor events.
“It felt really good to have all that outdoor space, and with Pat Stolley next door (and his recording studio), he’s such a great neighbor,” Fawks said. “It really felt like you could feel the community pulsing when we had the outdoor space opened. No matter what happens with this pandemic, we’re going to make sure that that outdoor space is up and running every season.”