The Return of Lucky 13: An Interview With Melody Henry
For about two years, I spent every Thursday night closing out Lucky 13 in Park Slope. A single-room watering hole packed with horror memorabilia, burly bikers, voluptuous go-go dancers, cold beer, blistering underground metal, and the occasional member of local scene royalty trying to relearn how to speak English, Lucky 13 was my dream bar. It was skeevy but cozy, well-kept but wild, a beautiful shitshow. Yet while Lucky was the perfect escape from the world for my booze-addled mind, I couldn't help but think that it was worthy of more -- more room, more bar, more volume. Which is why I was so overjoyed to learn that Lucky 13 was moving from 13th to Sackett Street in Brooklyn, taking over a larger space and becoming both a bar and a live venue.
If you're a metalhead from New York, you know Lucky 13's owner Melody Henry. Five-foot-six in platforms, rocking a spiked leather corset and a devilish smile, Melody is a mainstay of the metal scene in NYC. Midway through building the new Lucky 13 from scratch, she took a moment to talk to Invisible Oranges about what it takes to create your own venue.
For our readers unfamiliar with the place, can you tell us about how Lucky 13 got started?
Jeff (Blanchard, co-owner) was the daytime manager at Webster Hall and I was a long term bartender when we met. After September 11th, I lost my bartending job and was just starting to teach yoga and other fitness related things, but Jeff was still at Webster and working really hard for other people. So the idea was initially his, but we had no money. We lived in Park Slope at the time, and there was just nothing cool there, nowhere we would want to hang out. So we talked about opening a bar, but it seemed an impossibility. With our complimentary knowledge, though, we were the perfect match. He knew not only the daytime bar stuff, but was also a construction worker and carpenter. And I knew all the nighttime bar world stuff, so all we lacked was the capital. After hanging out at a bar near Webster one night called Bar None, I was talking to the owner and we were talking about what we wanted to do, and I asked where he got the money to open, and he said he had done it all on credit cards. So this amazing lightbulb went on in my head because I had great credit back then (not anymore! Ha!), so I just started applying for all these credit cards and then we started looking at spaces. I essentially wrote myself $70,000 in credit card checks. And that's how we opened Lucky 13 Saloon! Crazy, right? Banks don't really let you do stuff like that anymore.
Which came first, the name or the location on 13th Street?
Well, I was born on Friday the 13th, so the number 13 has always been a big part of my history. When we found that space on 13th Street, it just seemed like luck because it was actually doable. So it was definitely Lucky 13.
You've always had trouble with neighbors and local law enforcement — can you remember the first time you guys got raided?
I can't remember the first time, but there were definitely moments of horror that stand out. Getting hit with every single department on a weekend night at midnight — the health department, the fire department, the DEP, all coming in at once and totally killing the night for us, inspecting every little thing in the middle of what had been a busy night to find things to fine us for. Thousands of dollars in fines, every time. We also got fined $1,000 at 9:30 PM on a Saturday night over a noise complaint, so that's when/why we stopped having bands. I had to stop the band that was playing in the middle of their set because [the cops] said they would just keep fining us.
What's been the most popular/fun party at Lucky 13 over the years?
We have had lots of crazy shows (Waking The Cadaver and Cerebral Bore definitely stand out). Our original burlesque show Original Cyn was very popular for years and the new one, Lewd & Lucky Burlesque, is now equally as popular. It’s more of a variety show, so it's pretty interesting. We had some DJs over the years who really brought the fun. JennCity used to throw a party once a month called Bad Girrrls that was hella fun! We have had a whole lot of awesome in 11 years there.
Who's been the most famous metal musician you've had come in? The most fun musician? The hardest drinking?
1. Brent Hinds of Mastodon. 2. The Melvins. 3. Brent Hinds tied with Dax Riggs of Acid Bath, who actually passed out in the bathroom for a little while!
Tell us about the new space. When did you guys decide it was time to move?
The new space was a garage when we got it, so it was a totally empty, raw space. On the one hand, that is awesome because we had the freedom to build it exactly the way we wanted to. On the other hand it costs a shit ton to build a bar from scratch, from the ground up. All the plumbing, all the electrical work, it's insane. The HCA system cost $20,000 alone. Just kill me.
Around five or maybe six years ago, they built these overpriced condos across the street, where there used to be a Salvation Army that homeless people slept in front of. Now the people who live there call 311 or the police a lot. We've tried everything to keep the noise down: we stopped having bands play, we built a wall over the inside of the windows to keep the noise inside, etc., etc. But there's only so many times we can tell our customers to keep it down in front of the place. Drunk people are kind of loud and we are just on too residential of a block. We've outgrown the space and, I suppose, Park Slope in general. We can't do what we want in there so it's time to move. We‘ve wanted to for some time but were having trouble coming up with the capital. We borrowed a huge amount of money from three different sources in order to do this. Going into this much debt to make this happen is incredibly scary.
Technically speaking, what needs to be done to build a bar? What has been the hardest piece of construction work thus far?
Well, you need the plumbing for bathrooms, back bar sinks, ice machine and all that. Tons of electrical work to get power everywhere you need it, actual construction of the bar itself. . . just a lot of work. Jeff has been working his ass off in there for a zillion hours trying to get all the actual construction done while I've been dealing with all the crap like getting used back bar equipment to save money, getting stuff on Craigslist, dealing with Verizon (who at first showed up and said they couldn't do the work because there was nothing in there). There’s also lots of paperwork — liquor license and tax stuff.
The entire back room needed to be soundproofed, and because we don't have the money to hire help it took a long time to get all those layers of insulation and sheet rock up. Jeff says sheet rocking the ceiling in the back room in 90 degree weather was the worst of all because he had to do a double layer. I think busting down the entire brick chimney was probably pretty shitty too. It's been a tough few months to say the least. But I'm pretty sure in the end it will all have been worth it.
There are good bars that rock, and then there are good rock and metal bars. Atmospherically, what do you think makes a good metal bar?
Music, music, music. GOOD music. And some dark imagery. We like to assault people's senses when they walk in. I want people to feel total sensory overload. But when I personally go to other bars, for me it's really just about the music. And maybe having some intelligent conversations about metal bands or genres. I enjoy a good debate.
You've mentioned your cool new church doors — what are some of the other cool fixtures and features of the new place?'
Jeff had these cool road cases that he used with his band Eyes of the Sun, and he asked me to find two 42 inch flat screen TVs on the cheap. So I scoured Craigslist for days until I found just the right ones at the right price and Jeff put the TVs in the road cases and hung them from chains from the ceiling. It looks amazing! Those antique church doors were also an amazing find, and wait until you see the door handles we got for them. I had to order them from Australia.
Which parts of the old bar are being brought over? The armless mannequins? The leave-a-drink board? The Jack Daniels lamps?
Pretty much everything at Lucky 13 now will be moved over to the new space. Jeff makes those Jack Daniels lights out of our empty bottles, so he will need to make a lot more, as the bar is just about twice as long as our current bar.
How big is the new stage?
It's 12 feet by 12 feet and 3 and a half feet high, which is actually a pretty high stage. But when we have events where the backroom is open, you'll actually be able to see the stage from the bar because of its height. Also, it will feel awesome for bands up there!
Who are some bands you'd love to see come through and play Lucky 13?
I'd love to see Goatwhore and Skeletonwitch play, and Jeff says Author Punisher and Dax Riggs!
Let's say you had unlimited budget and resources. What would you make Lucky 13? Would you move to Manhattan if you could?
I think we would open another location somewhere in the area. . . Jeff says Queens or even Jersey. If we had unlimited resources, I'd like to open a few further afield, like New Orleans and Portland. Fuck Manhattan. It's over.
To regulars and newcomers alike, what do you promise with the new bar?
Everything you've come to expect from us except bigger and better! The old Lucky 13 Saloon with all its debauchery and mayhem except with the addition of bands! Bigger bands than we were able to have at the old space back in the day, but of course still showcasing some local talent and having an awesome time in general. Long live Lucky 13!