I’ve always had a fantasy about opening a punk-rock tiki bar. Think of it: a dark room with lots of bamboo crap, busted surfboards, torches on the patio, and a jukebox that has both Cecilio & Kapono and The Adolescents.
Throw in a decent PA and a stage big enough for a drum riser, and you’ve got the place where everybody knows my name. I’d call it … actually, I have no idea. And therein lies the rub. As far as I’m concerned, a bar’s name is nearly as important as its location. Sure, if you’re opening a dive-lounge, you can call it anything ending in a possessive: Al’s, Steve’s, J&J’s. Same with a sports bar: Just pull a name out of a hat, put some tv’s on the walls, and there ya go. (Big Apple Café, Stingray’s, The Bronx Zoo?!) But to do something different, something that hasn’t been done before, you can’t just slap any old name on the door and start counting the money. Matching the right name to the right vibe is practically an art form.
Which brings us to The Blue Grotto. As the bassist in a local band, I never thought about playing there before. I dunno. With its low ceiling, circuitous and cramped quarters, and candles everywhere, the joint near the University-Camp Bowie intersection never struck me as a place where I could plug in and do damage to people’s eardrums. But, lo and behold, last week I opened my eyes and there I was, on stage at The Blue Grotto, plugged in, and playing a bon voyage party for a friend of a friend. I had my reservations. My drummer scouted the place a week earlier. He reported back, “The place is small and concrete, and we’ll have to bring our own soundsystem,” which usually translates to “It sounds like ass, and we’re gonna be sweating balls.”
Fortunately, my fellow rhythm man doesn’t write for Fodor’s. While technically accurate, his description leaves out a few details. For one, the concrete can be found only on the floor, and it didn’t produce the sort of deafening, locker-room echo I imagined. For another, there’s the ceiling: I don’t know if the designers intended for the room to function as a live music venue, but they made a lucky guess when dropping the top. It’s covered in the kind of wood panels that provide a warm, dim atmosphere as well as dampen down any unpleasant frequencies bouncing off the floor.
Then there’s the room itself. The walls are red brick and accented by wood countertops, making the entire joint feel cozy but not like some soporific, faux-English pub. It’s a little like hanging out at Charleston’s, except you don’t get that depressing-cheesy Medieval Times-feel. Perhaps as a nod to its name, The Blue Grotto is also finished in blue rope lights. The overall effect makes the already-intimate bar feel like you own it. It’s sort of like the West Seventh Street area’s answer to The Moon, minus the latter’s cavernous feel.
Ever since The Blue Grotto opened about a year ago, it has been plagued by rumors of its seemingly always-eminent demise. But in addition to the vibe – and killer sandwiches – the joint has enough regulars of various types (young, old, rich, poor, shaven, unshaven) to give it the potential to be a destination. It’s not really a tiki bar, and it’s definitely not a punk bar, but it does have the sort of underwater ambience that I’d want of my own watering hole. On top of all that, the staff hooked us up with free club sandwiches. Shaka, brau, mother-huncher.
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