Last Friday night, as the reunited ’90s band The Bis-quits played to a full house, the Slow Bar didn’t look like a club on its way out. Nor did proprietor Mike “Grimey” Grimes, who doubles as The Bis-quits’ bassist, look like a club owner facing borrowed time. Except maybe for the part where he got the audience to chant, “Ain’t got no money for no goddamn beer.”
But in less than two weeks’ time, the Slow Bar will indeed join Lucy’s Record Shop, Caffè Milano, Cantrell’s and other cool casualties of Nashville nightlife. On Monday, Sept. 1, the East Nashville club will host its last showthus removing a major component of the nighttime renaissance that has made the Five Points area, and East Nashville in general, the city’s hot spot of late.
“People are getting emotional way too quickly,” Grimes said last week, after he sent an e-mail to friends and clientele making the rumored closing official. “We’re still open another two weeks, and they’re going to be killer.”
Indeed, last weekend at the Slow Bar looked pretty much like business as usualthe club jammed with scenesters, college kids from across the river, aging veterans of the Cantrell’s days and much of the city’s music press. With the place still apparently popular as ever, the question remains: Why close?
According to Grimes, it’s as much a matter of exhaustion as opportunity. When he and former partner Dave Gehrke opened the Slow Bar at the corner of 11th and Woodland in November 2000, he wanted an after-hours hangouta place to drink beer, shoot pool and play the jukebox after long days tending his record store, Grimey’s in Berry Hill. As the bar’s live shows upped from sometimes to always, the Slow Bar became a second full-time job instead of a retreat.
“I haven’t had a vacation in almost two years,” Grimes says. Without his loyal staffers Niko Gehrke and Brian Bequette, he adds, “there’s no way I would have made it this far.”
Last month, he floated the idea of taking on another investor at his current location. His hope, he said, was to find someone who could do for the Slow Bar what his partner Doyle Davis has done for Grimey’s: build a mom-and-pop business into a prime contender without losing its soul or flavor. Next week, Grimey’s will begin reporting to the SoundScan sales-tracking service, a major step up in clout for an indie retailer, and rumor has the place poised for large-scale expansion by the end of next year.
But despite lots of interest, no Slow Bar savior emerged. With the time almost up on his lease, Grimes decided to call it a day. He doesn’t rule out reopening the Slow Bar in another part of townsomeplace like Berry Hill, 12 South or Woodbine that could use a nightlife catalyst. He might even play more music himself, do some touring. Right now, he says, he just wants a few weeks’ break before he plots his next move.
“I’ve just got to get through these next two weeks,” Grimes says. That includes the last hurrah for such Slow Bar institutions as Guilty Pleasures, the club’s habitually mobbed ’80s covers night, and Jook Joint Monday, which will send off the club Sept. 1 with many of the neighborhood musicians who boosted its early success. And then the bar will be gone, leaving a sterling three-year history and a question mark as to who will fill the void left by the Slow Bar’s absence.
But if last Friday’s show was any indication, Grimes shouldn’t rule out more dates playing with the Bis-quits. At the climax, Grimes and bandmates Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack thrashed like garage-bound teens, and as they left the stage, onlookers’ hands were wet from slapping their sweaty backs. Exhausted drummer Tommy Meyer walked out the front door onto Woodland Street, inched on hands and knees across the brick sidewalk, and finally came to a stop face-down and motionless inches from the gutter. It was the kind of moment Slow Bar patrons will treasure, and miss.
As one departs, another arrives
As a performer on the R&B circuit during the 1960s, B.B. King once played nightclubs on Jefferson Street. This Friday, the blues legend opens his own on Second Avenue. The new B.B. King’s Blues Club is a 20,000-square-foot venue and restaurant housed in the former Club Mere Bulles space, modeled after its sister clubs in Los Angeles and on Beale Street in Memphis. It will offer live music on two stages, including a smaller “Deep Blues” stage downstairs.
Back in the heady days of Planet Hollywood and the NASCAR Cafe, a B.B. King nightclub was reportedly scouting properties on Lower Broadway. Now it’s a welcome shot of good news in the District, which could use some broader music options. Memphis blues vocalist Ruby Wilson, the “Queen of Beale Street,” christens the stage on Friday night. But the biggest headliner announced so far is the man whose name is on the door: King will celebrate his 78th birthday with a two-night stand Sept. 29-30. B.B. King’s is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. For more information, call 256-2727.
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