The corner of Madison and Avalon in Midtown has long held a special place in the heart of Memphis' underground music scene. The intersection was once the home of the infamous Antenna Club, generally accepted as the nation's second-longest-running alternative-music spot (only New York's CBGB's lasted longer) and home base over the years to influential fringe bands such as Tav Falco's Panther Burns, the Modifiers, the Oblivians, the Grifters, Pezz, and countless more.
However, in 1995, the Antenna succumbed to long-standing financial struggles and closed its doors. In the years since, the club has changed hands and names frequently, at different times operating as the Void, Barristers Midtown, and the gay/lesbian nightclub Madison Flame. More recently, an ownership group led by Murphy's owner Robert "Benny" Carter, along with partners Doug Fruitt and Chris Marquez, took over the space and rechristened it Nocturnal.
"Because of Memphis being a late-night party crowd, we all decided Nocturnal would be an appropriate name for the clientele," Fruitt says. "It was brought up to maybe change the name to something with Antenna in it, but we knew we could never live up to the history of the Antenna Club. It has its place in Memphis-music history, and we didn't want anyone to think that we were even thinking we could bring it back."
"There's something about trying to relive the past that just doesn't work," Carter says. "We want to embrace the history and add our forward thinking to it."
Carter and his partners have renovated the space, lending a new and cleaner vibe to familiar surroundings. (The original bar, the DJ booth, and the graffiti/art in the back rooms remain intact.) The process was more than arduous.
"Everything was removed, walls and floors cleaned and painted, etc. It took us two months to complete and get up to code so we could get out beer permit," Marquez says.
Though the club has largely been dormant since the group initially took over the location, action has picked up of late, with club operators more aggressively pursuing local and touring live bands and DJs.
For more information, including a calendar of upcoming shows and events, visit myspace.com/nocturnalmemphis.
Another reopened and renovated night spot has popped up down the street from Nocturnal at 345 Madison, the former home of Stop 345, My Greek Cafe, and, most notably, ex-Barristers owner Chris Walker's Last Place on Earth. Now dubbed Memphis Mary's, after manager Tad Pierson's Memphis-style Bloody Mary mix, the club is attempting to develop a steady clientele with a new vibe and an interesting event calendar, thanks to help from show promoter Cheryl Payne.
"We plan to provide an array of entertainment," says Payne, a lawyer by day and former label representative for A&M and Factory Records, among others. "Not only live bands, but films, art shows, etc. We will definitely have bands perform in their regular line-up, but we are encouraging musicians to put together a little something different for our place."
Some of those outside-the-box ideas already on the books include a performance by local garage duo Jeff Evans & Ross Johnson as Elvis and Jerry Lee on October 23rd and a solo cello performance by Mouserocket's Jonathan Kirkscey, followed by a screening of the Leonard Cohen tribute film I'm Your Man on October 30th.
"What will set this place slightly apart in a town full of great bars is that the music will start earlier and will feature known artists doing something they may not be doing at their bigger gigs," Pierson says. "That, and the film stuff. And all of it in an atmosphere that is meant to be conducive to conversation. That is often missing in loud, noisy bars where it seems the point is almost to keep people away from each other."
To receive updates on events and other happenings at Memphis Mary's, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.