That new bar smell

by Brian Clarey

I just can’t believe it. I’m sitting here in luxurious comfort and security in a clean, well-lighted space. From my magnificent throne I can see the freshly painted cinderblock walls, bereft of scars and graffiti, can hear faint traces of piano and a woman’s voice singing, the thump of the bass and drums echoing. It smells like shellac and paint and urinal cakes.

There’s room for a dozen guys in here, the men’s room at the new Blind Tiger, relocated from the corner of Walker and Elam to this spot on Spring Garden Street, a serious upgrade. And when I finish my business and stand up, the toilet erupts via an automatic, hands-off flushing system.

I could never have done this at the old place, where the bathroom was of the kind that, if you dropped a quarter on the floor, you’d just leave it there.

Of course, the old Blind Tiger is no more, bought out by former owner Neil Reitzel who has designs on creating a new space on the Corner more along the lines of his other restaurants, Fishbones and Sticks & Stones. But for now it stands dark and vacant, cracks spider-webbing along one of the tinted picture windows on the street.

It’s no secret that I loved the old Blind Tiger — for booze and music and fellowship — practically from the day I moved here. And when news of its closing came down the pike I was aghast.

I worried about my musician friends, all of whom have graced the Tiger’s stage at one time or another, and the barflies I came to know there. I had concern for the bartenders and the neighborhood, which I was sure — and still am — will never be the same, for better or worse. But mostly, I was thinking about me. And what I was thinking was: Where the hell am I gonna drink now?

But then partners Don “Doc” Beck and Danny Forman secured the abandoned diaper washery here on Spring Garden Street, and they’ve been hard at work renovating the place, painting the walls a classy tobacco brown; installing the big stage, new lighting and a digital sound system; erecting a tall fence around the front patio; transforming it from a place that once processed bags of baby crap into a genuine venue.

There are upgrades all over the place in here, starting with these bathrooms: pristine monuments to the eventual results of beer drinking and dancing, with signs made of light projected onto the walls. There’s a proper office back here behind the stage and a green room, too. Yes, the Blind Tiger has a green room. Wonder what the Walrus will think of that?

The barroom itself is massive, more than doubling the old club’s occupancy limit, and the smoking porch out front is as big as the old dance floor. Up by the door, there’s an actual ticket stand with — can you believe it? — a coat check. From the high, high ceiling hangs tasteful lighting. Tasteful lighting! And… is that art on the wall? I believe it is. And the whole place has that wonderful new bar smell, unsullied by cigarette smoke, spilled beer or whiskey farts.

Frankly, it’s a little bit too nice for a guy like me. “I’ll throw you out if it’ll make you feel better,” Forman says to me. Shane Lee has been doing sound and lights for the Blind Tiger for 13 years, and now he stands guard inside a large sound cubicle in the center of the room, not tucked into the corner like in the last joint. It’s festive, aglow from laptops and console switches and splashed with the moving strobes overhead. The digital console is new, he says, and the public-address system is three times the size of the last one he worked with.

“It just makes me happy,” he says. The new Blind Tiger opened Jan. 28 with a show by Donna the Buffalo, where Doc reported a capacity crowd all night long. Tonight on stage is Morgan McPherson with her band, several dozen patrons lingering on the floor or watching from the long, 43-foot bar. She says she first played the old Tiger back in February 2009, her very first professional gig.

Tonight, she says, is a completely different experience. “It’s kinda strange,” she says. “The stage is so much bigger; the lights aren’t as hot.”

Her bassist, Strother Bullins, calls it. “The old place was like a great old music bar,” he says. “This is like a regional venue.”

Some things haven’t changed. Doc still makes his anxious paces behind the bar, still constantly scans the room and watches the door. But he’s more at ease now that the place has been finished and opened for business.

After closing he leans near the coat check station and surveys the newest room in town.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess we pulled it off.”