R.I.P. Lenny's 

An oral history of the crackheads, the Christmas lights, the PBR, the punks, the one-room shack, the strip mall, the graffiti, the noise, the corn dogs, the tornado, the losers, the legend and the end

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David Railey, Corndogorama music fest founder and booker at Lenny's former incarnation, Dottie's: When I started booking at Dottie's, bands had been playing there since the '80s. Moe Tucker from the Velvet Underground and all of the good, weird Atlanta bands like Smoke and Dirt had played there. Cat Power, too, and when she wasn't playing a show, Chan Marshall hung out and played pool. On one of my first nights booking, I walked in and there was Dottie — this woman who was probably in her 60s — on a pair of roller skates, and she was just beating the crap out of another lady. It was crazy! When she saw me walk in she straightened herself out and said, "Hey hun, what can I do for ya?" She had such a sweet voice, and she pointed me to where the bands should load in their stuff. Then she went back to fighting with this poor woman.

After Dottie died from cancer, her son took over and the bar's reputation plummeted. It no longer had a liquor license, and Railey, who had staged the first four Corndogoramas at Dottie's, moved it in 2000 to the Earl. That same year, Clermont Lounge owners Kathi Martin and Tracy and Elwood Brown bought Dottie's, but Dottie's son refused to vacate. According to Martin, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms had to kick him out.

Kathi Martin: Dottie's son was running the place into the ground. We were lucky to get a liquor license because he had been terrorizing the neighborhood, which was dead set against opening another bar there. We did, and we wanted to keep the name Dottie's, but her son threatened to sue us.

click to enlarge PROCEED WITH CAUTION: The bathrooms at the current location were almost as scuzzed-out as the former Lenny’s. - SARAH WOODS
  • SARAH WOODS
  • PROCEED WITH CAUTION: The bathrooms at the current location were almost as scuzzed-out as the former Lenny’s.

He wouldn't leave, so the ATF came in and closed the place down. It was a big mess. My business partner was there, and the ATF guy said, "We need to know the name of the new business right now!" Just off the top of his head he goes: "Lenny's." It was a spur of the moment thing. We did have a Lenny working there when we opened, and everybody thought he was the owner, but we hired him after the fact.

In early 2001, Lenny's opened in a primordial state. Bands played there, but promotion was an afterthought. Booking stumbled along for about a year until a recent college graduate from Ohio and Tower Records employee, Ben Worley (aka Bean Summer), took on the job in the fall of 2002. His philosophy was simple: Book whoever will play.

Bean Summer: The first time I went to Lenny's was after a Young Blood Gallery art opening. One of the artists in the show invited me over to see his friend's band play. I remember pulling into this totally sketchy parking lot, and there were a bunch of homeless people standing around. When I walked in there was a crazy mix of rednecks, older homeless people and cool hipster kids just hanging out. It was cool but freaky, an old piece of Atlanta, and there weren't many places around like that.

One night I was at the Clermont and the bartender asked, "Why don't you book a Friday night at Lenny's?" She knew that I had booked Q and Not U in the basement of a church when I was in college, but that was about all the booking experience I'd had. So I went in on a Thursday night and met Rick Dang, an old Atlanta rock 'n' roll guy who was doing sound at the time. There was a Peavey board from about 1985 and four microphones. Making the sound system work was a MacGyver job every night for a while. We had to duct tape and rewire everything just to get the two mains to work.

The first couple of years I didn't even have a computer. I went to the library to book bands, and then friends like Brian Parris would come DJ at night. Then after a while Preston Craig started doing his KISS Atlanta dance parties, which brought a whole lot of people through the door. But I was focused on keeping bands coming through the door, too.

Lenny's began attracting an off-kilter music scene that generated a strange energy when the older, daytime drinkers mingled with the younger crowd. Local bands and smaller touring indie, punk and experimental artists became the new nighttime regulars. One of the young faces among this budding scene was a freakishly gaunt kid with a penchant for surrealism named Bradford Cox. He had a fledgling noise band called Deerhunter that played its first show at Lenny's in 2002.

click to enlarge Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox struts his stuff. - COURTESY OF RANDY CASTELLO

Bradford Cox: The first time I went there it reminded me of my cousin's double-wide trailer. My family is kind of country, but at that point in my life it was exactly what I was looking for, the spiritual equivalent of CBGB. For the first Deerhunter show, Moses [Archuleta] played bass with a pair of scissors. Dan Walton played drums. It was a different time for Deerhunter. We had a song called "Nylon Girls," and we were very inspired by Perverted By Language-era Fall and bands like Sightings. Randy Castello [of Tight Bros. Network] and Gavin [Frederick of Stickfigure Records] were putting on shows there. Bean glued it all together.

Cyrus Shahmir, member of the N.E.C. and former Lenny's soundman: I saw Deerhunter there when they were playing songs that would become Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey. They had developed that five-piece, all-encompassing sound that was so striking to me at the time. They sounded creepier back then. The fucking Christmas lights behind the stage and the tarp on the ceiling made for an effective ambiance, and you could gather people to come to a show and it didn't have to be sold out to be really cool. If it was packed-out, the whole place rocked. It was intimate and crusty.

Analucia McGorty, a Lenny's regular who went on to sing for Chicago punk-pop quintet the Busy Signals: My friend Lis and I were hanging out there one night and we got into a fight with some dumb girls. During the fight these crackheads that were constantly hanging out stole Lis' purse. After it was broken up we realized that her bag was gone, so my friend Jeremy [Thompson] and Jared [Swilley of the Black Lips] ran and caught up with them at the gas station down the street. Jared was trying to get her purse back when this giant crackhead grabbed him by the shirt and raised him off the ground. Jeremy ran up and punched the crackhead in the face, causing all of his teeth to crumble out of his mouth. Seriously, his teeth just broke. He dropped Jared and Lis' purse fell out of his jacket.

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