Now open: Canvas and Dirty Crow Inn. 

the Toasted Italian

Photographs by Justin Fox Burks

the Toasted Italian

After two long years of putting in some long hours, their dream has been realized for business partners Rob Coletta and Brandon Knight.

The pair recently opened Canvas, a bar-slash-music venue-slash-gallery-slash-live art forum.

"It's an interactive arts lounge," Coletta says. "It's a place where we invite musicians, artists, and creative people to perform and create under the same roof."

click to enlarge Robert Coletta (left) and Brandon Knight
  • Robert Coletta (left) and Brandon Knight

This is not their first go-round with the concept.

The two operated a similar venture downtown, Memphis Rehearsal Complex, for a few years until the opportunity "expired," according to Coletta.

They immediately began looking for their next spot, and the house at the corner of Madison and Evergreen became available when Echoes of Time antiques moved across the street.

"We were just driving by and saw it," Knight says.

They immediately signed a lease, but the place was far from move-in ready.

The house is more than 100 years old.

"We took out part of the chimney and reinforced it with steel. We had to do new plumbing, electric work, heating and air. We put in a brand new sidewalk all the way around," Knight says.

They also put in a patio, which seats 40 in addition to the 50-seat indoor area.

Canvas features a seasonal drink menu with the first incarnation including Mud Island Tea, Painted Mule, and Purple Drank, all around $8 or $9.

The menu is salads and sandwiches and flatbreads, with everything also hovering around $8 or $9.

"We want to keep the focus on the art," Coletta says.

Every weekend showcases local musicians performing while artists create live art.

click to enlarge Shawna Gardner buys two Amy-Beth Rice paintings
  • Shawna Gardner buys two Amy-Beth Rice paintings

Wall space is dedicated to local artists, where they sell their work, created both on- and off-site, for a small consignment fee, and every other Sunday is open mic night.

"It's a great way for local musicians and artists to interact with the neighborhood and sell their work and music and merch," Coletta says. "We're having a good time."

Canvas is open 4 p.m. to midnight every day, with the kitchen open late.

Paul Atkinson has worked every bar position available except one.

As of April 26th, he can now say he's worked them all.

"It's always been on my bucket list to be a bar owner," the former Bayou Bar and Grill employee says. "I've held every position but owner."

Just before Beale Street Music Fest, Atkinson opened Dirty Crow Inn, a combination of his favorite bourbon, Old Crow, and his nickname for it, "Dirty Bird," at the corner of Crump and Kentucky across the street from the popular South Bluffs apartments.

"There are not that many places down here. There's the new Loflin Yard, and I believe we can help each other out," Atkinson says. "They're building new apartments down here left and right, and they're already at 90 percent capacity."

Atkinson was working in Nashville when he found out about the space.

"I got a text out of the blue that asked if I would be interested in opening a dive bar. I was intrigued," he says.

He came for a visit and left with a vision.

"When I looked at the spot, I immediately saw what it could be," he says.

He describes it as a "five-star dive bar."

It took him five months to build everything out, with a new bar and walls covered in old pictures and insignia he's collected over the years.

"My mom has been going crazy finding everything she can with a crow on it," he says.

The print of Cosmo Kramer came with the place.

"It was in the women's restroom, but I thought his place was out here so everyone could see him," Atkinson says.

As of press time, Atkinson is still waiting on his liquor license but says it should be any day now.

"I wanted to be open for Memphis in May," he says.

His kitchen is up and running, though, featuring fresh ingredients and everything homemade, including wings cooked on the smoker ($8.50), a catfish basket ($8.50), Crispy Fried Pickle Chips ($5), a pulled smoked chicken sandwich ($8.50), and Poutine Fries ($7.50) — fries covered in smoked chicken gravy and mozzarella.

"It's pub grub. Everything is scratch-made. I've always loved to cook, and I believe fresh is best," he says.

Other plans include putting in a beer garden with a cornhole game, serving daily specials, and maybe some acoustic music here and there.

"I want to do a lunch business for Budweiser and Hershey's and the businesses behind me and be a neighborhood bar to the apartments across the street," Atkinson says. "I want this to be a fun, comfortable place to grab great food, a cold beer, and a good drink."

Dirty Crow Inn is open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., seven days a week.

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