Memphis' indie-rock scene is notoriously insular and tends to stick closely to its established territory — the generally friendly confines of Midtown bars and restaurants. But lately a new music venue is gathering momentum in an unexpected location, inspiring many local musicians to rethink any preconceived notions about rocking the suburbs.
Swanky's Taco Shop, a popular, locally owned Mexican restaurant and tequila bar just outside the city limits in Germantown (6641 Poplar, in the Carrefour shopping center), began booking local acts on weekends earlier this year, soon after hiring sometime Memphis musician Blair Pearce, who eventually became a manager and took on the club's booking responsibilities. Pearce, a former member of several well-known local bands, including Lucky Old Sun (with Lucero's Ben Nichols), Recoil, and Liftoff (with Snowglobe's Tim Regan), was determined to pursue an audience different from his neighborhood competitors.
"We definitely don't want to be a sports bar," Pearce says. "We like to think that we cater to a more creative and open-minded crowd. When people come in on a show night, they're usually there, at least in part, for the music. So I look for bands that mostly play their own stuff. We actually tried to book a few cover bands in here, but it didn't really work because our audience didn't go for it.
"I wish this place had been open when I was a teenager," adds Pearce, who grew up in the same neighborhood. "It would have been nice to have had some place to see live music and play shows a little bit closer to home."
So far, the results have been positive for the restaurant, which has seen respectable crowds come through the doors for normally Midtown-centric local acts such as Snowglobe, River City Tanlines, Jeffrey James & the Haul, Jamie Randolph & the Darkhorse, Chris Chew (North Mississippi All-Stars) and Star & Micey, who will perform at Swanky's on Friday, December 11th.
"I like playing there a lot," Star & Micey singer/guitarist Josh Cosby says. "Our last time at Swanky's, we met several new fans. It goes to show that you can make a connection to new people anywhere, that it's just as important to play in different parts of town."
From a showgoer's perspective, one thing that sets Swanky's Taco Shop apart is the club's strict no-cover-charge policy, which encourages a healthy crop of bar regulars and walk-up customers to stick around for the show. Charging at the door might otherwise send them packing.
"It gets bigger and better every week," Pearce says. "The free-shows thing really helped us. It suits the neighborhood clientele and brings new people in to give us that first chance. Plus, there's so much going on in this town, musically speaking, that we had to do something to give us an edge and give people a reason to drive out to Germantown to see a show."
That said, it won't be too long before Swanky's opens a new, closer-to-home location for Midtown music scenesters. The company plans to expand into an East Memphis storefront at the corner of Poplar and Colonial that was most recently home to the Atlanta Bread Co. The new Swanky's, set to open early next year, will be much larger than the Germantown location, allowing more space for live music.
"The East Memphis store will be bigger and better," Pearce says. "We'll be able to do so much more with it. Part of the reason I've been working so hard on the music front is because I knew we were going to open a new location in town eventually and wanted to start building our reputation in the music scene early. That way, when it does open, we can hit the ground running."
For more information on Swanky's Taco Shop, including events, menu, and new-store updates, visit swankystacoshop.com.