Liquor in the Front 

The Earl celebrates six years of East Atlanta excellence

The gated and gloomy shell of Echo Lounge, languishing in decay on Flat Shoals Avenue, is a sad sight indeed. The once-shining beacon of alternative music first drew crowds to the mean streets of East Atlanta in 1998. Though the venue planted the neighborhood firmly on the city's nightlife map, it closed earlier this year. Only a few blocks north on the same street, a warm glow still emanates from the East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge, or as it's popularly known, the Earl.

Since opening its doors to the public shortly after the Echo Lounge in 1999, the Earl has emerged as a friendly neighborhood competitor/counterpart. Six years down the line, not only has it outlived the Echo and become the neighborhood's premier music venue, the Earl is a stable and thriving East Atlanta institution where hippies, yuppies, punks and players can all have a drink and check out a band - if they feel like it.

So what gives the Earl staying power to help it through an era that has witnessed the demise of not only Echo Lounge, but other Atlanta music spots including 9 Lives Saloon and the Cotton Club? In a word: cohabitation. The Earl's liquor-in-the-front, party-in-the-rear dynamic has fostered a symbiotic relationship between its two halves. Without the East Atlanta restaurant, there would be no lounge.

As gas prices grow under the shadow of George W. Bush's legacy, and the Internet's ample supply of free music keeps people happy at home, going out to live shows has become a hard sell. But when the going gets tough, the tough spend their money on alcohol.

According to the Earl's booking agent, Patrick Hill, it's the comfortable setting of the front room that keeps the club in business. "More than anything else, [the Earl] is a place where people just feel comfortable hanging out," Hill says. "We take great pride in the music we bring here, but it's a whole lot more than just a music venue. People come here to eat, drink, and be merry, and we get a healthy crossover of people coming to see shows and people coming just to hang out."

John Searson, co-owner of the Earl (along with partners Donnie Parmer and Shane Pringle), agrees with Hill but emphasizes that it's the regulars who keep the Earl afloat. "If you look at the numbers coming strictly from the back room, it's tough to stay in business as just a music club," Searson says. "We have people who come in and bitch about having to pay $5 to go see music, and won't pay it. So instead of paying $5, they sit in the front and spend $50 drinking! Having people who come here regardless of the music really helps us a lot."

That's not to say the back room is a lifeless place. The acts that grace the stage represent an eclectic batch of local and nationally touring acts whose freshness and artistic convictions keep them out of larger and less intimate settings.

To celebrate its sixth anniversary, the Earl booked three nights of local yokels and legends. On Thurs., July 7, Athens' seminal post-punk act Pylon headlines a set following performances from Tenement Halls, (ex-Rock*A*Teens and the Tom Collins). British invader and one-time Athens/Atlanta resident Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps, the Jacobites) will also make an appearance, backed by Tim Nielsen and Jeff Sullivan of Drivin' n' Cryin'. On Fri., July 8, local singer/songwriter Michelle Malone takes the stage. On Sat., July 9, Athens-based style rockers the Whigs and like-minded locals Jetty and Luigi bring the celebration to a close.< p>CHAD.RADFORD@CREATIVELOAFING.COM

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