Perhaps this is why I put off writing this story for so long; I didn’t want to admit the truth that at the end of the year two of the most important places in my life will have ceased to be. Covington club The Mad Hatter has already shuttered its doors and the Southgate House in Newport is closing on New Year’s Day.
And I can’t quite bring myself to accept that.
In high school, I was the token weird kid. Some of my peers flourished on the football field, in the classroom or in the school theater. But for me, I was the kid who listened to the loud music but didn’t have the musical skill to play himself. Going to a small, private school in a Cincinnati suburb, this inclination was met with every sort of response, usually in the realm of confusion. It’s not that I didn’t fit in; it’s just that I was never totally comfortable at school.
But there were two places where I was comfortable: The Mad Hatter and the Southgate House. While many of my peers only went to national shows at Bogart’s or U.S. Bank Arena, I began to venture to smaller local shows and I developed an intense love for both venues. I loved them for two vastly different reasons however: Southgate House’s stability and the Hatter’s volatility.
Going to The Mad Hatter was an event and setting every detail was part of the ritual.
Mad Hatter was a destination for which one had to be prepared, but you were always in for some fantastic highs or some rock-bottom lows (often both in the same night). The Mad Hatter was where I had a drink with a member of my favorite band, saw all (and I mean all) of local rockers Banderas for the first time and drunkenly punched a brick wall.
Every memory I have of the place, and there are many, is extreme and vivid. The Mad Hatter had no room for mediocrity; you either had the time of your life or wanted to die by last call. But that was part of its charm for me. I never knew what to expect, I was constantly surprised by what I saw, heard, smelled and tasted (thank you heavy-handed bartenders). No matter what end of the spectrum presented itself that particular night, The Mad Hatter never failed to deliver a memorable time.
In many ways, Southgate House was the antithesis of The Mad Hatter. That old house feels like home in many ways. I had gotten to the point where I could walk in, shake the hand of the doorman and stroll to my destination for the night, often just the lounge bar to enjoy a drink. It’s been a constant in my life — when other plans fail, the Southgate is there, waiting with a Sailor and coke.
The music was always important, but often more the icing on the cake. When Southgate House closes, I will certainly miss the music, but also the Parlour’s unisex bathroom and things like missing Reverend Horton Heat in favor of storytime with some beautiful blonde and singing Danzig at karaoke. While The Mad Hatter was delightfully unstable, the Southgate House was like a rock. When I worked at Newport on the Levee across the street, I often capped off a night at work with a trip to Southgate. Amidst the sea of fake tans, short skirts and Ed Hardy shirts of Levee visitors, the Southgate House was a haven for authenticity, and I’m not sure that anything can fill that void. When/if someone new takes over the venue and tries, I don’t know if I can ever accept it.
There are rumors that Southgate House’s management and staff are opening a new venue in Newport and the old House will receive renovations (possibly remaining a music club). The Mad Hatter is slated to reopen under a new name and owner. I’ve been following the news and rumors swirling around both venues since they arose and began to take shape, but I still cannot pin down my feelings.
On one hand, I agree with legendary local musician David Rhodes Brown and others who have said that it is not a building that creates a community, but the people within it. But at the same time, both of these venues are symbols of the formative years of my life. I grew up in both of these places and to see them change in any way, shape or form is terrifying to me. I don’t know how to let go and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to do so completely.
No matter what the outcome is, however, I will always have my memories — the highs, the lows, the sadness and the joy. When the final last call rolls around on New Year’s Eve, I’ll lift my glass to all that was and hope that there is still more to come. If these venues mean anything similar to you, please do the same. Our memories will guarantee that neither venue will every truly die. ©