The remade Bunkhouse Saloon swung its doors open Monday night, for a three-band show headlined by indie-rock veterans Built to Spill. Our first impressions of the new-look Downtown venue:
1. It’s Bunkhouse-y, and it isn’t. The room retains roughly the same configuration—stage up front (though now in the opposite corner), bar across the middle, hallway leading out back—and the décor nods to the bar’s pre-Downtown Project days, with the old stage surface, some Old West memorabilia and yes, the iconic deer head, hanging here and there. Still, a lot more’s fresh than familiar, from the wood floors to the exposed ceiling. Everything’s now on one level, strange columns won’t block your view and the front patio now exists only for show, because …
2. Crowds enter from Fremont Street. You can still park in the old 11th Street lot, but you’ll need to circle around to the alley behind the Bunkhouse to get in. That might seem strange now, but once next-door 11th Street Records is up and running, it should make for a neat music enclave.
3. You might want to buy tickets right when they go on sale. The joint was sold out on night one, and DTP booker Mike Henry said that one woman paid $85 for a ticket on StubHub. Big names like The Breeders and Bob Mould could test the space’s capacity (250) further in upcoming weeks.
4. If you can’t score a ticket, you can still hear the gig. The new Bunkhouse’s fenced-in outdoor area is comfy, close to a food-and-beverage window and equipped with speakers that provided Grade A sound direct from the stage. All you need is a valid ID to access those tables and benches on show nights.
5. Sound inside might not be perfect yet, but it’s ridiculously improved. First nights rarely run perfectly, and the most common complaint about this one concerned the sound for Built to Spill. Leader Doug Martsch’s vocals were buried for much of the set, and though he apologized for the rough condition of his voice (coming off 11 straight nights of performing), the sound mix seemed to share some responsibility for his semi-inaudible lyrics. Still, when the room sounded right—as during a glorious version of “I Would Hurt a Fly” or a guitar-riffic cover of Metallica’s “Orion”—it heralded great things to come.
6. Don’t assume you know which bathroom you want. They’ve flipped the men’s and women’s, so be careful.
7. It’s a bit bright down front. A minor point, perhaps, but the position of the overhead stage lights kept the first few rows from achieving traditional concert darkness. Tweakable, most likely.
8. Your clothes won’t smell afterward. There’s no smoking inside. There’s also no video poker, and the place isn’t open during the day. Which leaves us wondering, where are the creepy Bunkhouse lifers hanging out nowadays?
9. Order the Grits N’ Gravy. We were skeptical, too, but now that we’ve had ’em—deep-fried cheese grits with a decadent dipping sauce—we can’t wait to get ’em again, and to continue sampling the menu.
10. The new shows end before some of the old ones started. Really. First band Slam Dunk went on at 7:15(!), and Built to Spill was off promptly at 11. Crazy.
Quote of the night: “The old Bunkhouse owes us $600, so I don’t know what you guys wanna do about that. We’ll take it in bar tab.” –Rusty Maples singer Blair Dewane