After months in the dark, the Comet Tavern officially reopens today with a new sheen, new operating procedures, but (hopefully) the same divey charm that has led to plenty of good memories (and plenty of forgotten ones) over the decades. Dave Meinert and Jason Lajeunesse—duo behind Lost Lake Cafe and Big Mario's—have brought the famed Capitol Hill bar back in hopes of giving the neighborhood a hang out spot that appeals both to new patrons and those that loved the old dingy spot.
"You can't open a dive bar," jokes Meinert. "What you can open is a bar that's inviting and encourages people to hang out and have fun. And if we're here long enough, it'll be a dive bar again."
As part of its reimagining, the Comet will starkly scale back its live music offerings. Instead of being a seven-days-a-week concert venue, the space only will host a handful of locally focused shows every month and have DJ sets on the weekend. Most interestingly, the Comet is adding a weekly "Country Lunch" on Sundays (except the second Sunday of every month) featuring both unplugged live performers and DJs playing country (plus cheap chili, cornbread, and beer). To program the music, Meinert and Lajeunesse have brought longtime Comet booker Michelle Smith back into the fold. “It was important for us to work with Michelle,” said Lajeunesse. “She’d put a lot of years into the place and put a lot of her heart and soul into the programming here. And so we invited her to come back and manage that part of us and work with us to make sure her legacy kind of continued alongside of the Comet.”
While the deemphasis on music might bum some out, it does have its positives. For one, there won't be cover for any of the shows. The artists will be paid from the bar sales and, in a neat twist, there will also be a line on customers' bills for them to directly tip the bands. The schedule also allows an element of selectivity. “One of the benefits of not booking three to four bands a night, seven days a week, is you can really hand pick the shows you’re going to do,” said Lajeunesse. “It’s an opportunity for Michelle to champion bands that she really loves. The shows get to be a pretty special event when they happen.” The music kicks off tomorrow (Tuesday, April 1) with a grand reopening performance by Country Lips.
"Music is a big part of (the Comet), but it doesn't have to be live music," said Meinert. "Sometimes music is about musicians hanging out and not about bands playing shows."
With an extensive selection of dirt cheap beer, pool, pinball, and (for now) actually functional barstools, Meinert and Lajeunesse hope that this new Comet Tavern recaptures the welcoming spirit of the classic neighborhood bar.
"To us, this place isn't about business," said Meinert. "It's almost like an art project, to be honest. We have other places that are profitable and make money. If this was about making money, we wouldn't have done it. It's about creating a neighborhood space; kind of a hang out. Hopefully it's somewhat important culturally, which is really not about the space as much as the people who come here and the conversations that happen. Before the last eight years—where it was just a music venue, basically—it was always a place where kind of political discussions and cultural discussions happened. I want that culture to remain on Pike/Pine."