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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In July of 2007, Bradford Cox and Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt were robbed at gunpoint outside of the club after playing a Friday night show. The bad nights started outnumbering the good ones. But while much of the punk rock scene Lenny's had nurtured was abandoning the new location, others were going through a formative experience there. A new and distinct, off-the-radar rap scene was on the rise. MCs including Yelawolf, Hollyweerd, Sean Falyon, Spree Wilson, Pill, Killer Mike, Grip Plyaz, even future-soul starlet Janelle Monáe, were becoming new fixtures at Lenny's.

Yelawolf: The first time I played Lenny's was in the Fuggin Awesome days, back in 2007. That was an event that me and a bunch of other local underground guys on the scene put together: Brian "BP" Parks, Chris from the Hydrilla, and Skape Zilla. It started over at the Drunken Unicorn, but we outgrew that place so we moved it over to Lenny's. Fuggin Awesome really created a scene. Hollyweerd, Killer Mike, CyHi da Prynce, they were all coming out.

Bean Summer: They were ready and they were real, and they had something cool happening. At the same time, some of the older bands that had been playing there were getting to be too big and had moved on to play shows at Variety Playhouse. I had to change things up.

Grip Plyaz: I was playing at Lenny's back in the old spot, when it was still called Dottie's, with [Atlanta hip-hop act] Collective Efforts. They didn't do a lot of hip-hop shows there, but they did their share, and it was a cool spot to go hang out. I liked the newer one, too, but it ain't nothing like the old Dottie's.

Yelawolf: That place had a vibe like no other. You could go nuts there and no one cared. Security wasn't trippin' and they just let artists be artists. If the door guy was cool with you and the bartenders were cool with you, they'd have you back until you did start pulling a crowd, and the biggest crowd that I have pulled as a headliner in Atlanta was at Lenny's.

click to enlarge HAIR-RAISING: Before Prince came calling, Janelle Monáe got it in at Lenny’s in ’07. - ALAN FRIEDMAN
  • HAIR-RAISING: Before Prince came calling, Janelle Monáe got it in at Lenny’s in ’07.

One night this old lady came up and flashed her titties at everyone during one of my shows. She was probably 60, and just bar-hopped in there. She came up front and was peeping me, and then she got on stage and: Bwahhh!

Grip Plyaz: It seems like there are fewer and fewer places that even fuck with the underground hip-hop scene anymore. Lenny's was one of the only places that would take us in and let us do what we want to do, so we stuck with it.

Yelawolf: I've left Lenny's smelling like a fucking garbage bin — from cigarettes, being wet with beer, and from falling on the ground, shirt-ripped, scratched on the face. They let you be who you are. I grew up as an artist at Lenny's. I went from performing with a DJ, to straight DJ and a drummer, to rocking with a full band, and back to straight rap shit. Lenny's was our spot.

Though home to another emerging scene, Lenny's still wasn't out of the water. On March 14, 2008, the club came face-to-face with nature's fury when a tornado swept through parts of downtown Atlanta, Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward. Portions of the nearby Cotton Mill Lofts were left in near ruins, and Lenny's sustained significant damage.

Bean Summer: I thought a jetliner had crashed outside. I was sitting at the computer and the lights literally started exploding. When I looked outside there was a roof lying in the parking lot. Two months before, the building had been sold, and the new group refused to fix the damage to the roof. It was a leaking nightmare and there was no air conditioner. We had tons of shows booked and there was a crazy heat wave going on. The Sword came to play and were really upset about the A/C situation, which burned us out with their booking agent.

Kathi Martin: [The building's owner] wouldn't fix nothing and said that we were in charge of maintenance. But when a tornado comes along and takes your air conditioner, that's the people who own the property's problem. There was water everywhere. I finally made a deal that we would get out and they would take a year off the lease. They finally fixed the roof and wound up keeping us after that.


Nature's Fury

Bean Summer recalls the day the tornado hit

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