Mike Spoerndle, Founder of New Haven Nightclub Toad's Place, Dead at 59
Mike Spoerndle, Founder of New Haven Nightclub Toad's Place, Dead at 59

Mike Spoerndle, founder of the renowned New Haven, Conn. nightclub Toad's Place, was found dead at his home Friday, according to the New Haven Register. He was 59.

While Spoerndle was majority owner of the club, Toad's Place not only featured acts such as R.E.M. and U2 as they rose to fame, the 750-plus-capacity venue welcomed special gigs by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Billy Joel and the Rolling Stones, who launched their Steel Wheels Tour with a secret show at the club in August 1989.

An imposing presence with a gruff charm, Spoerndle hosted hundreds of managers, booking agents and record label executives at Toad's, which rivaled rooms in larger cities as one of the music industry's top showcasing venues.The club continues to book both national and local artists.

"His personality was as large as he was," says Jim Koplik, chairman of the Northeast division of Live Nation, who helped book Toad's for many years with Spoerndle and Brian Phelps, Toad's former manager, who is now owner of the club. "He lived a roller-coaster life."

While the cause of Spoerndle's death had not been reported at press time, he struggled with substance abuse in recent years. He relinquished control of Toad's Place to Phelps in 1997 and then sued unsuccessfully in 2000 to regain ownership of the club.

"I lost my family, my business, everything that mattered to me," Spoerndle told the Yale Daily Herald in 2000, after emerging from one phase of rehabilitation.

Spoerndle, a native of Ohio, moved to New Haven in the mid 1970s to attend the Culinary Institute of America. Taking over the site of a popular Yale campus restaurant called Hungry Charlie's, Spoerndle first opened his own restaurant, then converted the space to a nightclub.

During the pre-MTV era from the mid `70s to the early 80s, when the nation's showcase club circuit was key to the development of new talent, Toad's Place helped build the audience for an array of emerging national acts: Blondie, Huey Lewis and the News, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rickie Lee Jones, R.E.M., U2 and many others. Spoerndle also regularly booked regional favorites, including NRBQ and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. And the club ventured beyond pop and rock bookings: contemporary jazz artist Jeff Lorber released a track titled "Toad's Place" on his 1979 "Water Sign" album.

Spoerndle became involved with local charities and, in 1993, he received the Elm-Ivy award for contributing to a strong relationship between the city of New Haven and Yale University.

Despite his struggles with substance abuse, Spoerndle is remembered as "the man who made Connecticut rock," as the New Haven Register reported.

The afternoon of August 12, 1989, Spoerndle telephoned friends to invite them to a private birthday party for Jim Koplik at Toad's Place. The invitation was a ruse to draw guests to a rare private club performance by the Rolling Stones.

"The funny thing is," Koplik recalls, "I got a lot of presents that night."