Eight years is a long stretch for a bar as improbable as the Electro Lounge.
The tiny club sprouted up in the first floor of an office building and shares a parking lot with Best Buy. Unlike other hip spots in the metro, the Electro Lounge is stuck on an island, far from music venues and other businesses that share the bar's unique clientele, and yet owner Bryan Neel said it has survived because it offers indie-music aficionados a bar to call home, a beer and wine menu worth the drive and "the best jukebox in Oklahoma City."
The eighth anniversary show featuring Pretty Black Chains, The Burning Hotels and Kids at the Bar begins at 9 p.m. Friday at Electro Lounge, 5929 N. May.
"Eight years is a fucking milestone, I wish it was a decade because that's what it feels like," Neel said. "We've gone against the grain from day one. We started off doing something different that you now see a lot of other bars trying to do: putting a lounge inside of a club."
Neel opened the bar specifically to play the kind of music he wanted to listen to. DJ Ferris O'Brien keeps cutting-edge music flowing through the bar and helps many relive the radio glory days of KSPI-FM with "Spy Night" every Friday. Occasionally, patrons might be treated to live music, including the February debut of The Pretty Black Chains, but Neel said that he isn't interested in making live music a staple.
"Shows are more novelty; I don't want to be the next VZD's," he said. "The reason why Pretty Black Chains plays here is because I believe in that band. I like having it be a spontaneous thing: 'Hey, these guys are on the scene and they are really good. You need to pay attention to them because they are going to be huge.'"
The recession has thinned out crowds a bit, just as it has across the state, but Neel said Electro Lounge is still running strong because it's a landmark bar to college-aged drinkers.
"The only thing that frustrates me about the kids is the majority of the cool kids the bar attracts eventually move out of state," Neel said. "Every year I get a new crop of kids, and then they are gone. If every one of those kids stayed and built this state instead of moving to California, Chicago or New York, then the city would be so much better than it is now."
When the Electro Lounge opened, it offered food, but soon collapsed the kitchen to focus on music. Neel said the kitchen is returning because of a growing interest in the Electro crowd. Another possible change coming down the pike is the bar's long-discussed move to N.W. 23rd Street. Neel is hesitant to give a date for the move since he is waiting on the renovations of the Tower Theater, which "has been a year away for several years now." He does see progress being made, including city improvements to the sidewalk and current renovations to the theater's signature marquee.
"If I wanted to, I could go move over there right now, but I won't until I see a parking lot go in and the sign is finished," he said. "There are some super-talented people involved in the project, they've all got connections in their own right and know what they want the street to look like. Once that beacon lights up, it will really define the street and I foresee, in the next five to six years, that being the hot spot in Oklahoma City."
Texas foursome The Burning Hotels will join the Electro anniversary celebration on Friday and will soon play the part of self-involved rock stars who forget their roots and brush off the plucky heroes trying to win a battle of the bands in the upcoming movie "Bandslam," which features "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens, Lisa Kudrow and David Bowie.
The Burning Hotels' sound is a less glittery version of The Killers. There is still plenty of romantic ruminating welled up within the lyrics, and the rapid-fire New Wave track "Stuck in the Middle" will be one of two Hotels tracks featured in "Bandslam."
Singer/guitarist Chance Morgan said the movie role came up unexpectedly when a friend passed the band's name to the film's director, Todd Graff. Morgan said he and his bandmates were reticent, but still agreed to meet with Graff.
"He explained that the movie was trying to introduce substantive music to kids that are leaving that tween stage, entering high school and getting ready to go off to college, which made us feel more comfortable being a part of it," Morgan said. "We play the Greenwich Village, too-cool-for-school, indie-rock band winner of last year's band slam. It's a huge opportunity. It is a little younger demographic than what we were looking for, but anyone to buy records is a good thing." "Charles Martin