Melody Henry looks like she will kick your ass, all 99 tattoo-covered pounds of her. But she won't (unless you piss her off). She is incredibly motivated, smart, sexy and kind-hearted. She is the ultimate New Yorker, having lived here her whole life, worked countless jobs throughout the city, and is in the loop about everything from visiting yoga teachers to the latest death metal shows. With her fiance Jeff Blanchard, she opened Lucky 13 Saloon in Park Slope, which has hosted everything from the monthly women's party Snatch to an anti-Super Bowl party. She was a vocalist for for the band Unto Ashes, has contributed a story to Best Lesbian Erotica 2002, and has partied with the best of them and has now brought her many talents together in the form of Lucky 13.
You are a whirlwind of activity - from a day job as a copywriter, to a former dominatrix, bartender, Crunch teacher of spinning, yoga and dominatrix bodysculpting, and now co-owning and working at Lucky 13 Saloon. How do you do it all?
Honestly, sometimes I ask myself that. Opening a bar, working there, bartending there and also planning almost all the events single-handedly as well as promoting them is a full-time job in itself. Then I also work my full time day job at the advertising firm and still make time to teach a couple of classes a week. I guess I think sleep is overrated. I only wish I had more time to do my own exercise/yoga and to spend more time with my dog, Ewan. :)
Lucky 13 Saloon opened on New Year's Eve 03/04. How long was the idea percolating? Have you always wanted to run a bar? What's been the biggest surprise/challenge about opening up a bar?
Well, I have worked in the nightclub industry most of my adult life in one form or another, from stripping at NYC's prestigious Flashdancers and Paradise clubs, to bartending at Limelight in the 90s during its heyday and I guess I just enjoy the nightlife in general. An ex of mine opened Bellevue Bar in Hell's Kitchen and I tended bar there for a couple of years and then another friend of mine opened a bar in Williamsburg called The Lucky Cat and I just realized it was a possibility to actually OWN a bar instead of working for other people all the time. The idea only came into my head last summer and I started scoping out locations in July/August and I found the space that now houses Lucky 13 pretty quickly - it was actually one of the first places I looked at and wound up going back to it a couple of times before realizing it was the exact right space. I signed the lease for September and construction and getting all my licenses took a few months of crazy overtime hard work, but we finally got it together in time for New Year's Eve, which made me absolutely ecstatic!
Lucky 13 is billed as "Brooklyn's Only Full Time Punk Metal Deathrock Alternative Bar" - What does that mean? Can you summarize the Lucky 13 philosophy?
A lot of the bars I grew up loving are either gone or have changed; I really just wanted to open up a place where I personally would be excited to hang out in. I used to go to Alcatraz and The Mission (which is now Ace Bar) back in the day, also the Pyramid was one of my haunts, which is completely different now too. It was cool to be able to go somewhere where longhaired metal dudes, mohawked punks, dykes, bikers and drag queens could all just chill out and hear some underground music while drinking affordable drinks. I was really just trying to recreate that sort of vibe.
You've recently had some issues with your neighbors in Park Slope, who've complained about noise coming from the bar. Can you give me an update on that situation?
I'm honestly not surprised that we've had problems. These are people who might not be used to the kind of people Lucky 13 attracts and due in part to the smoking ban in bars, our tattooed, pierced, blue-haired patrons are forced to hang out on the sidewalk in front of the bar when they want to smoke. We try very hard to keep a lid on the noise level but there is only so much we can control OUTside of the bar; inside of the bar we have done tons of soundproofing and that is no longer an issue. I think our neighbors will come to realize we are there for the long haul and we have to work together in order to try and make everyone as happy as possible. I also think 311 should NOT allow callers to be anonymous because I know for a fact it's the same couple of people calling 311 on us over and over and over, but unfortunately there is no way to document that. I do believe the police and the community board understand that we are operating 100% legally and that we are doing everything within our power for the people who live around the bar; and besides owning a business there I also LIVE in Park Slope, so the community is as important to me as it is to anyone else there.
You have an Artists Wall that rotates with the work of different artists, and on your website you say "Art shouldn't be safe and you won't see a still life of a fruit bowl here." Which artists have you featured and who do you have up next? How do you decide which artists to include?
We have had all local artists except for Darren Goldman who is Boston-based. Our first artist was the painter David Stoupakis who is absolutely brilliant; I saw his work at his CBGB's Gallery show and so I asked him to please kick us off right! He'll be having another show at Lucky 13 this November with a fitting Halloween opening. I actually hand-pick all the artists myself, basically people come in a show me their work and if it is somehow different, dark, and/or disturbing it's going to fit right in. We've had two photographers - Howard Forbes who did this visceral menstrual-sex series and Joshua Rubin who is a scene photographer who shoots portraiture of Dommes and other interesting characters. We also had mixed-media artist Lawry Romani's disturbing imagery and currently we are featuring work by Richard Miller, a painter I met back when I was working at Bellevue Bar. It's all been quite successful and some of the artists have even sold some of their work (I always ask them to put up a price list because it does happen).
In addition to the artwork, you have also hosted readings, from the Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache anthology reading to Cheryl B's new Atomic Reading Series, which makes sense because you yourself are an author. Yet, in some ways it seems almost antithetical, or at least unexpected, from such a loud, wild bar. How do you see the readings mixing in with the rock?
I suppose it is sort of odd, especially if you don't know I am a writer myself. But writers, of course, can be just as edgy as the artists we feature, and I want to create a forum for creative people in general, so
to me it makes perfect sense. Starting in September (9/5) we will be adding an Open Mike segment after the featured readers so I think that will really start to get more local people in for the readings, right now it's been a bit of a different crowd then our usual. Which I think is totally great, actually! I'm also really psyched because Michelle Tea is having a book party at Lucky 13 October 8th for her graphic novel Rent Girl, and I am a really big fan of Michelle's work so I'm super-excited for that!
You also let people buy their friends drinks in advance - they pay, then the bartender writes the person's name on a wipe-off board and they can come in later and claim their drink. Is this popular?
It is surprisingly popular, actually. It didn't take off right away and then all of a sudden, it was like there was never enough room on the board and now I have to write smaller and smaller! People really enjoy coming in and seeing their name on the board, I think it gives them that warm, fuzzy feeling. :)
You also often have sexy go-go dancers grinding away in the corner. What makes for a good go-go dancer?
Uninhibited! That is the key! It doesn't matter how hot you are, if you stand up there and pose while occasionally shaking your booty, that's just not going to cut it. My favourite girls are the ones who jump up there and get wild, they grind and gyrate and make sex faces - I love that!! I love women in general but nothing gets me going like a girl who looks like she is really enjoying herself up there - that's a girl who definitely LOVES sex!
You celebrate all Friday the 13ths at Lucky 13. What exactly goes on there during them?
Well I was born on Friday the 13th so it's especially auspicious to me! When I found the space for the bar I was excited that it was on 13th street to begin with (which is where the name came from) and then when I went to the DOB to get the blueprints for the building I found out the building is exactly 13 feet high! I have always been followed around by the number 13. So every Friday the 13th we have a big party with DJs and go-go/burlesque performances and crazy drink specials - it's always a huge heap of fun. And we also throw the Friday the 13th movies on the screen, in consecutive order!
What makes Lucky 13 unique? And why should people (like me) who don't live in Park Slope drag our asses out there (sorry, but it is kindof a schlep)?
I think one of the things about it that is so great is that it creates a great amalgam of different kinds of people; on any given night we might have a mix of neighborhood locals, dykes, writers, bikers, metal chicks and tattoo artists - last week we had a group of Canadian punk rockers who found us on the web come all the way to Park Slope to hang out during their holiday, and they emailed me yesterday to say it was the absolute most fun they had on their entire week-long trip to NYC! You never know
who you might meet at Lucky 13.
Also, it's owned and operated by real people! I am not some rich chick who opened a bar with my trust fund - this took a lot of hard work and sweat and a load of debt which will take quite a while to pay off; I personally always try to spend my money at places that are owned/run by people on the scene, to support those people who are trying to do something good for us freaks who are being pushed out of the city by all the yuppies. Look at the East Village, that's where people like us used to hang out and now you have to make a reservation to eat at a bistro on Avenue B! Even the meatpacking district, once the home of the highly venerated Mother club, is filled with limousines! How did that happen?? So the underground scene has been forced out to different corners of the city, whether it be Park
Slope or Red Hook or wherever people like me can take it so that it is still alive. Support the things you love and hop on a train!
Do you have fun while you're working there, or is it still "work"?
I actually have GREAT fun while working at the bar; it definitely helps that when I am bartending people like to buy me shots because I get a little crazy once I'm toasted. You can even see photographic evidence of me on the bar pouring liquor down people's throats at lucky13saloon.com.
What's next for you?
I hope to eventually find the time to complete my autobiographical novel. I just don't have the time to dive into that thing and all its scraps that ARE written mock me by sitting there doing nothing.
Best place to have sex in New York?
Depends on what kind of sex, though I think having all kinds of kinky sex in a really super-upscale hotel in Manhattan would be the MOST fun. I once performed oral acts in front of Tompkins Square Park - not even IN the park, right on Avenue A! So that was fun. And I once had sex on a Brooklyn
fire escape in the pouring rain, that has to be one of my all-time favourites.
Describe your perfect New York day.
Stumbling across a major sale at a store I love and then catching a cab the minute I put my hand in the air to transport all my goodies home. Oh and it's about 70 degrees and partly cloudy!
Do you consider yourself a confirmed New Yorker, or do you see yourself moving at any point?
I have been here my entire life and though I don't ever see myself moving, I wouldn't mind having a second apartment somewhere like New Orleans or Las Vegas to get out of here during the real bleak slushy-stormy months. But I think I would be bored to death anywhere but here. I love New York
Lucky 13 Saloon is located at 273 13th Street at 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Photo and tattoo by Anil Gupta
-- Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel