With all music-journalist eyes on Brooklyn Bowl’s impending debut on the Strip, I’m happy to report on something altogether off-the-ball, Downtown-centered and grittier—namely, the live-music arrival of the Hard Hat Lounge.
Nestled in the armpit of Industrial Road and Wyoming Avenue, the Hard Hat has been tapping drinks since 1958. In the last decade, the bar has been a hipster-beard’s hair away from being discovered by indie-rockers, even when I used to cash my checks there in exchange for free hot dogs and jukebox slow-dances with toothless crack whores.
Those sordid moments are squarely in the past now that former Bunkhouse Saloon owner Charlie Fox has taken over the establishment. From the outside, there’s little difference, but after extensive interior remodeling, Hard Hat re-opened six months ago with a small stage for bands. I caught rousing sets by the Swamp Gospel (blues rock) and the All-Togethers (Americana/bluegrass) last weekend, which means this bar is getting serious about offering live music on a regular basis.
Fox went so far as to custom build what he calls the Hard Hat Lounge Stage Coach—a moveable feast of an outdoor sound system constructed as a foldout stage that emerges from within the body of an old full-length school bus. Fox gave me a sneak peek at the transforming vehicle, a wonder to behold. He plans to unveil it at 8:30 p.m. March 7 (First Friday) in the adjacent parking lot, which Fox owns along with neighboring Downtown Spaces, an updated ’60s-era office complex that houses galleries and studios for artists. Bands being billed that night include Americana-folkies Dusty Sunshine and alt-rockers GorillaHead. The possibilities for a live music venue on wheels are endless. I’m curious to see how the Hard Hat Lounge Stage Coach matches up, sonically and visually, against local brick-and-mortar clubs.
PHOTOS BY JON ESTRADA