I started going to The Black Cat before I could legally drink. For a dumb college kid who wanted to catch the next indie rock show, the space was somehow both welcoming and edgy. In the years since, I’ve gone to countless shows there, including stand-up comedy, disco orchestras, Guided by Voices cover sets, and even a few political events. The anchor to the Black Cat’s longevity has always been the Red Room, a large bar that always felt like your coolest living room (the way a watering hole should be).
When The Black Cat announced the Red Room was closing last year, like money others I reacted with a mix of despair and resignation. The 14th street corridor is very different from what it was five years ago, let alone ten years ago, and it’s great the Cat’s owners still want to keep the space. Those feelings returned in a different way when the Cat announced the Red Room would be reopening.
I recently had a chance to visit the new Red Room, and the use of space is impressive. They’ve expanded the back corner of the upstairs, while giving it a more intimate feel. One bartender explained to me the new Red Room is meant to encourage a sense of camaraderie: the jukebox and old TV are all analog, which creates a disincentive for patrons to stare at their smartphones. Indeed, it seems like the sort of space where you could easily make a new friend.
But there is a nagging feeling to the whole thing, like something is not quite right. The beer is pricier (all the drafts run $9), and there’s even a new cocktail menu. It’s a cocktail bar dressed up like a punk bar, not an actual punk bar. While chatting with friends at one its new tables, we decided the cumulative effect was like being at your high school reunion: it’s familiar and oddly welcoming, and yet not quite the same.
That might all be for the best. If the Red Room stayed open forever, walking inside would still not feel the same way as it did back in 2006. Our sense of home changes as we get older, so the best we can hope for is that others want to hold onto those feelings, some way or another. The folks at the Red Room did just that.