We caught up with RockHouse Live owner Zach Bair to find out more about his newish Memphis venue, and what he has planned for the future.
Memphis Flyer: When did RockHouse Live take over the Poplar Lounge?
We took over July 1st of last year and opened on August 1st. We are coming up on our one-year anniversary here, and our two-year anniversary at the other place on Raleigh-LaGrange.
Was this your first venture into owning a rock club?
I've spent most of my career in technology. I've been involved in venture capital start-ups, and in 2001, I started a company called iMedia Tech and we acquired a company called DiscLive. I sold iMedia Tech to Mark Cuban in 2006, and through those companies I started to really get interested in the music business. DiscLive is considered the pioneer of recording an artist live and then producing the content after the show. With DiscLive you can leave the show with a CD of what you just heard, and everyone from Slash to Peter Frampton are clients of mine.
I opened a RockHouse for two years in Dallas, right after I sold iMedia Tech. The concept was spot-on, everyone loved it, but the rent we were paying was too high. I closed that location and ended up moving to Memphis to be closer to my mom. After living here for a while I wanted to try RockHouse again, and Memphis is such a music town anyway, that I thought it would be a good idea.
What attracted you to the Poplar Lounge?
I had been there a couple times to see artists, and I learned a little bit about the history of the building and that it had been involved in major scenes of the movie Hustle & Flow. After I opened the first location, I was scanning real estate listings to see what was available, and one day I said, Oh my god, it's the Poplar Lounge. So I decided to go after it.
What kind of renovations had to be done?
We pulled close to 5,000 staples out of the walls. Most of the renovations we did involved cleaning and painting the interior and exterior. We moved the stage [from one side of the room to the other], and we improved the lighting, but mostly it was just cleaning, because this place was really filthy. We added some TVs, but we removed the pool table.
What types of bands normally play here?
A little bit of everything. We have hip-hop, metal, country, Americana — you name it, we've had it come through. Predominately we showcase local talent, but a lot of up-and-coming indie bands come through here as well.
How's the response been to the shows you book?
It's been good. Most people are really excited to see us take over the Poplar Lounge, but I think there are still some people out there who don't realize we've made these changes, and they drive by and think it's still the same thing. I want people to know that it isn't. We push our food menu, and most of the food items are my own recipes. Overall, I think the reception has been pretty good.
Do you think your location helps you draw audiences in? You don't have any direct competition on this part of Poplar.
I think this is a great location, because we are close enough to Highland to attract some of the college crowd, but we're also close enough to Overton Square and Madison to attract some of the midtown crowd. It's a great location, 60,000 cars drive down Poplar every day. I want people to know that we aren't the Poplar Lounge anymore. We recognize the heritage that was in this room, but the feel is different now.
Are you going to do anything special for your one-year anniversary?
I'm lining up 15 bands to play the Midtown location over the course of two days.
Because you've already owned a club in Dallas and you own two in Memphis, have you thought about expanding RockHouse Live and opening more locations?
My goal is to have a multi-unit chain eventually. One of my goals is to have in-room recording so the audience can walk out with a physical copy of what they just heard.