It was so like a dream. "We were in the old house. You were there, and you, and you...And we saw this door we'd never seen, so we opened it — and found a whole other room, that had been there under our noses all these years!"
Except it wasn't a dream. It was only yesterday and I was getting a tour from Laurel Cannito, who, along with Chuck 'Vicious' Wenzler, took over the Lamplighter Lounge last year after longtime owner Ann Bradley decided to retire. Looking a little mischievous, Cannito motioned me to a door I'd never seen and threw it open. And there it was: the Secret Room.
"It's like Harry Potter, isn't it?" she said, looking rather proud of her bar and the team that helps her run the place. "The room's always been here, but we haven't always been connected. This used to be a TV repair shop in the 60s. And then it was a bookstore. And then it was a ball point pen repair place. We've always said, 'Oh, wouldn't that be neat to turn into a venue space?' So, we recently acquired it. We have great landlords. They worked with us to help get it attached and everything. Then we did a lot of the construction work after we put it onto our lease."
Justin Fox Burks
Thomas pours a PBR
The Lamplighter Lounge, of course, is the long-adored dive on Madison Avenue that some say is the the oldest bar in Memphis. Despite the smallish space of the original lounge, the new owners removed the pool table last year and began hosting bands with increasing frequency. The vibe was always great, but it could get a bit cramped.
Now, the Secret Room more than doubles the size of the place. Entering from a door on the south end of the bar, you see an unassuming functional space that (gasp!) even includes a green room for the bands. What's more, the new room marks the return of the beloved pool table. Cannito is happy to have it back. "Miss Anne sold the pool table before we bought the place, so we didn't choose to get rid of it," she says, now visibly relieved at its return.
In addition to some few finishing touches like stringing lights, she'll outfit the new room with more bar-like amenities soon. "The original jukebox is still here by the bar, and we got that working again. But there on left is a new old jukebox that we are gonna get working for the Secret Room. Yep, double jukebox. You just need a jukebox in every room. That door over there is the customer door. And this door behind the bar is gonna be split in half and have a bar top on it so we can sling drinks from there."
Aside from such touches, the Secret Room will remain fairly sparse. "It'll be a little bare bones. It'll be not so much a raw space, but a malleable space. I like performance art. I would love to have more of that, like performance art and puppetry and dancing, or even the aerial stuff that's been around. Next month, we're doing a pop-up boutique every Sunday, because me and some friends have a bunch of clothes that we're trying to get out into the world. Stuff that's really nice, but it's just not our style anymore. And then, I have some friends in Asheville who are part of a professional circus. I could get them here at some point. It just expands our ability to help encourage creativity around town, give it a space," says Cannito.
And of course there will be music. "We already have music of all kinds, like the old time string band, soul bands, rock bands of all kinds, and rap and DJs and 80s nights. It's so nice. I want this to be the kind of space where every kind of music can find a place. And having the Secret Room is going to be really good for that. I think it'll bring even more types of music and even more bands. Because not everybody wants to set up in the small room and just play for people who drink. It'll help a lot with the intentionality of it."
To that end, the Secret Room will be having its inaugural show this weekend, Saturday, July 13th, featuring some of Midtown's favorites: Louise Page, Faux Killas and Rosey. Remarked Cannito of the latter band, "They're so, so good. When they finish a song, there's just a silence as the audience tries to process what they've just heard."
Discover the Secret Room this Saturday, to see and hear it for yourself.