The band $1000 Car started the Mermaid Lounge's version of the retirement tour in fine style. The band, once a Mermaid stalwart until singer Jake Flack moved to Maryland, played old-fashioned, barroom rock 'n' roll with the Iguanas' Derek Huston on sax and Papa Grows Funk's John Gros, still tuxedoed from a wedding, shaking his ass onstage. Band wives and their friends hiked up on the bar and during an encore, Flack started a "Keep the Mermaid open," chant, one that will likely continue throughout December.
In December 1994, the Mermaid Lounge opened on the corner of Constance Street and John Churchill Chase Street in what was then a lonely corner of the Warehouse District.Now, 10 years later, the club is closing its doors.
The demise of the club isn't due to anything as dramatic as a struggle with the Cotton Mill, the condominium across the street that was renovated and opened in 1997. Its tenants then forced the Mermaid to reorient the stage to minimize the noise, though on occasions, it was hard to understand the complaints. The club had to give up outdoors shows because, according to co-owner Brendan Gallagher, "the last time we tried to do it we had the Hackberry Ramblers and C.C. Adcock, and people were calling just when we started up. It's not like we had Metallica!"
Instead, the Mermaid is closing because landlady Mary Rascoe has chosen not to renew the lease. The property has been in her family since the 1930s, when her father operated Andrews Restaurant and Bar on that corner, and she has fond memories of the building and the two houses next to it, both of which were bought by family members. "There's nothing else like that (block) in the city," she says, and she feared the club owners' treatment of the property was "destructive to the building. I was afraid the whole thing was going to come tumbling down." She says they wouldn't let her in to make improvements or to spray for termites, and the bar's renovations included cutting holes in walls, even when she asked them not to.
"That's baloney," Gallagher says. "Termites -- she has a key to get in." He admits to enlarging a window and a door, but says those were done when Rascoe's sister-in-law held the lease, and the renovations were made with her approval. He contends if anyone did anything wrong, Rascoe did: "She tore up our back room and left it that way for six months."
In January, a real estate developer will begin the process of turning the bar into a restaurant, Rascoe says, but she's not sure about the plans to develop it. The Mermaid, similarly, is moving on, selling a decade's worth of memorabilia and bar fixtures starting Dec. 19 and moving some stuff into storage while deciding on what to do next.
"There's a good possibility that we'll be perhaps not opening again as the Mermaid but moving all of our equipment to a place where we could open again if we could get it all together, right near here," Gallagher says.
In the meantime, there are the last nights of the Mermaid. "I'd rather go out with just a whimper, for myself, but I'm glad there's some other people who have a lot of enthusiasm for these closing parties," he says. "We're sort of unhappy we're closing, but in some ways we're relieved. We knew it was going to happen some day."
Anthony Del Rosario of Turducken Productions has similar feelings. "It's a little sad, but all good things must come to an end," he says. Del Rosario has produced indie rock shows in the Mermaid since 1999, averaging 10 or so shows a month. When the Mermaid closes, he will lose his primary venue, but he's using the occasion to make some changes himself.
"I'm going to slow down doing the smaller shows for a while. I'll miss the Mermaid but not miss doing so many shows. This will help me focus on just a few shows a month and not be so spread out."
The final shows will have a family atmosphere, featuring the bands most associated with the club. On Friday, Dec. 3, there's an "employees-only" show, with Hazard County Girls, Blackfire Revelation, Rotary Downs and Hotchkiss. "They all represent our hard-working crew here," he says. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, Jeff and Vida, the Geraniums -- Gallagher's band, with co-owner Jeff Treffinger -- and Nashville's Believers perform.
The Believers are the only out-of-town band playing during the closing weeks, but singer Craig Aspen lived in New Orleans when the bar opened and played the night it opened. "I'm glad we're able to play it again and say goodbye properly," he says.
There will also be two more Mermaid Garden Parties -- kid-friendly Friday happy hour shows of honky-tonk with the Plowboys Dec. 3 and 17. "I'm glad we could do that," Gallagher laughs. "The Garden Party was the only good new idea we had in the last couple of years."
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- Amanda Frank
- Reflecting on the closing of the Mermaid Lounge, co-owner Brendan Gallagher says, "We're sort of unhappy we're closing, but in some ways we're relieved. We knew it was going to happen some day."