It’s been just about six months since Portsmouth Book & Bar opened up its doors and showed off the painstaking renovations that transformed the historic granite Chase House into the thriving business atmosphere you see today. Walking through the doors you’re welcomed by bright and vivid colors accented by remarkably ornate pillars and decorative trim molding around the ceiling — all of which was hidden by a suspended ceiling in a past incarnation of the establishment. A shame…; but boy is it nice to see the architecture of the building highlighted as it has long meant to be seen.
To say the least, the Portsmouth Book & Bar is a unique place. It’s comfortable, it’s inviting, and everything about it is infinitely interesting. It’s an establishment that is looking to aid in the distribution of fine used books for those who still covet the tangible and beautiful entity that is a book. It’s an establishment that allows you — while thumbing through said volumes of fine books — to partake in a tasty beverage, be it a gourmet latte, a high-quality wine, or a delicious craft beer. And don’t forget the food. Crafted by Chef Amy Mehaffey, the Book & Bar conjure up a luscious array of cuisine to tempt any palate — from baked goods, to sandwiches, small plates, and more.
WHAT Music at Portsmouth Book & Bar
WHERE 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth
CONTACT 427-9197,www.bookandbar.com, and on Facebook
• June 21, 9 p.m., The UnExplainable Billy Eli & The Spook Lights (proceeds benefit the Birchtree Center for children and youths with autism)
• July 6, Ken Stringfellow. His newest album is “Danzig in the Moonlight,” and he’ll be coming from France. His band, the Posies, has been recording and playing for decades. Stringfellow played with R.E.M. for 10 years and has been with Big Star for more than 17 years.
• Aug. 2, sultry indie-jazz singer Margaret Glaspy
So…; apart from giving folks the opportunity to divulge in the age-old tradition of soaking up the ambient pleasure that you can only experience in a bookshop — an ethereal opportunity that continues to phase out at the expense of virtual shops, and the cold, personality-less plastic thin-line box known as a digital reader — what else is the Book & Bar up to? Glad you asked…; They’ve been giving touring musicians an opportunity to play their songs. In a town where music venues seem to be failing and falling in similar fashion to bookshops, Portsmouth Book & Bar is adding a little space to listen to interesting music that you may not otherwise see and hear in the Seacoast.
The three owners (of note: they have 80 years of book selling experience among them), David Lovelace (who has built upwards of seven book shops in his life — including The Montague Bookmill, which has become an iconic cultural presence in Western Massachusetts), John Petrovato (who also owns and operates Raven Books — with two locations in Boston and Cambridge), and Jon Strymish (who recently sold New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, Mass. — the largest independent bookstore in New England for the past two-decades), along with Mehaffey have collectively orchestrated a music series that speaks to the eclectic tastes present among them. From folk, to Americana, bluegrass, Celtic, alt-country, rock, and even cabaret style performances, the series has (in its short life thus far), and will continue to offer unique listening experiences for everyone — from the casual music fan to hardcore music lovers.
Strymish — who was on the board of directors at Club Passim in Cambridge for the better part of a decade — has strong ties to the Boston music community and is looking to expound upon those connections for the continued cultivation of the series.
“My theory is to get, and expose people to musicians that are making, and feeling music, not simply selling it,” said Strymish in a recent interview. “When a musician is ‘selling’ music they’re never as interesting and exciting as they were when they started out, or had an inherent passion to play. Those are the folks we’re looking to book here. The folks that are excited about playing and have the ability to engage the crowd in amazing ways. I’m pretty excited about what we have going on.”
Mehaffey — who has spent portions of her life in Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Austin, and Boston, also has thick ties to the music scene here and abroad including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore who has expressed interest in a future performance at the venue.
“So far it’s going great,” said Mehaffey. “The artists have been enthusiastic about the space, and the people that have attended the shows have been very appreciative and have expressed interest in what we have going on (musically) moving forward. We’re happy to have this space to afford people an opportunity to play, and listen to music. So far all the shows have been a ‘pass the hat’ affair, but for some shows we’re looking to bring in, there will likely be a cover charge. It will be a mix for sure. It’s good to have a mix (of free shows, and ticketed events).”
Up to this point the Book & Bar have hosted Session Americana, Boston favorites The Swinging Steaks, innovative cellist Rushad Eggleston, Damon and Naomi (of Galaxie 500), The Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin — Jimmy Ryan (of the Blood Oranges), Soprano Julie Braun Haines with an evening of cabaret music featuring songs by Weill, Satie and Gershwin, The Murphy Beds with Irish folk music from Brooklyn, Anna and Elizabeth — ballads, fiddle tunes, great harmonies and storytelling, and Sisters of the Moon featuring members of Della Mae.
“You never know what’s going to come through the door,” said Lovelace. “From the music, to author events, to films…; We’re just trying to keep it fresh, and keep it interesting. And — I can say this because I’m an author myself — if you’re not interested in what’s going on in here (or you’re just interested in conversing with your peers), there’s an escape valve by way of the patio that we’re building outside.”
As of right now future shows include Texas songwriter Billy Eli (June 21), Ken Stringfellow — founding member of the Posies, as well as a former member and longtime collaborator with R.E.M., and a member of Big Star, Lagwagon, and many others…; (July 6), and sultry indie-jazz singer Margaret Glaspy (Aug. 2).
“We’re not looking to pack a schedule just for the sake of booking a schedule,” said Lovelace. “We want to make sure that what we have coming is of the highest quality, and something you probably can’t get anywhere else around here.”
“We’re still getting organized, but we want folks to know that this is happening,” said Mehaffey. “It takes a village. We’re happy to have become a welcome part of the Portsmouth community, and we’re trying to give back with unique programming. We hope you’ll join us.”