by Madeleine Peck Wagner
It’s about 11 pm on a Saturday night in 5 Points. The air is cool and clear and along the main drag of Park Street people are ambling about, wandering back and forth between the bars along the strip.
At Underbelly–where you can sneak through the retail space of Anomaly, or, slip in the back behind the 5 Points main drag–there’s a small group of drinkers intent on closing the place down. The bar is Emily Moody and Shea Slemmer’s new bar/project, they’ve converted the tiny storage space behind Anomaly into a weensie pub. And are using the outdoor area as an extension of the bar space (complete with an outdoor bar stand some nights). It’s a very small space with lots of handmade elements; it feels like a very quirky personal project that guests are lucky enough to be invited into. In keeping with the whimsy of the space, it is worth noting that Underbelly closes at midnight.
Moody explains why she and Slemmer opened the space: “I’ve always been intrigued by ‘lifestyle’ stores. I had been wanting to start a tea/snack bar of sorts and had been toying around with that idea for a while. I wanted to add another dimension to my business [Anomaly]. From super positive past experiences with throwing parties and hosting art shows at the store, coupled with the fact that Shea wanted to take a new direction with her gallery [FLUX], Underbelly was born.”
Typically, in addition to offering libations and light snacks, the bar has art shows and performances. Underbelly opened with “Undraped,” a showing of Jim Draper’s work, and since then has had a rotating roster of artists moving through. Most recently, they hosted “Dismantling Monoculture,” from the Beehive Design Collective, a group of Maine-based artists whose work revolved around the connections between colonization, militarism, and resource extraction in the Americas. “I feel like it is a constant progression as an artist, as well as a business owner to ever evolve and take ideas to another level. After closing FLUX, Shea wanted to continue to focus on a space as a gallery featuring works of local artists. Both feel it is important to nurture this amazing arts community that is really taking flight in our fair city right now.
With Mad Manatee beer from Bold City Brewery, and more to come (when they get it bottled, says Moody), Underbelly is a whimsical departure from a typical bar scene, more like a backyard party at a very tasteful friend’s house. Of course, Underbelly doesn’t only serve the Bold City brand, but it is one Moody highly recommends. Perhaps the best part of the spot is the treehouse. About fifteen feet off of the ground in a huge old tree, the treehouse is ostensibly the DJ booth…however, Moody admits sometimes friends climb up too.
Just down the street, on Lomax, there’s the Lomax Lodge. Owned by Ian Ranne and Marianne Purcell, the Lodge is the second in their nightlife ventures, (the first, Shantytown is a Springfield establishment). Ranne and Purcell took over the space that was Steamworks about three months ago and promptly began renovations. Initially the partners were offered the opportunity to buy the bar stools and coolers, “It was kind of dumb luck, we went in to buy stuff, and came out with a bar,” says Ranne.
But instead of keeping things at the status quo, they decided, “to add our own charisma.” The most striking of the changes (besides the much-needed smoke eaters) is a series of heads mounted on the western wall. Well, they are not exactly mounted heads, they’re painted on the wall. On Shaun Thurston, the artist who conceived the trophies, Ranne says, “Shaun’s our artist for every project, so when we sat around brainstorming with him, we were like: ‘let’s do animals,’ and it went from there.”
In addition to being a publican, Ranne is one of Jacksonville’s best DJs and promoters. He’s got exquisite taste in music and regularly brings some of the best Hip Hop acts to the city. That’s also in store for the Lodge; in fact, in March the Lodge hosted The Black Sheep. Currently, Ranne has booked Hip Hop DJs for Friday and Saturday nights, and plans to bring other genres to the spot as well. A typical night, Ranne hopes, will include spinning, a live show, and afterwards: dance party.
Walking into Lomax Lodge, its immediately obvious that the space is a take on a kind of boys club meets bar. It’s got the baroque absurdity of a hunting lodge combined with the bare bones necessity of a bar plus, it’s got pool, fooseball, and air hockey games. Like Underbelly, the Lodge serves beer and wine; Ranne recommends the Stone IPA or the Dogfishhead. They got twelve beers on tap, and over 100 bottled varieties, plus a wine list compiled by Purcell herself…who’s got a well-deserved reputation for serving nice wine at nice prices. But then again, on Fridays and Saturdays, the special is 32 ounces of PBR for five dollars. “It’s been really popular,” admits Ranne with a grin.