Harry Somerville has spent a lot of time on one side of the bar. During that time he’s thought a lot about what he would do if he were the owner and operator of the other side.
In November of last year, Somerville reopened The Hideaway Bar on the corner of Third and Jefferson Streets as The Green Lantern, reviving the moniker from one of his favorite haunts, which was located on the corner of Seventh Street and Elm Tree Lane, while a student at Transylvania University.
Somerville also had a history at The Hideaway during college, when he would belly up while on the clock working for the work-study program with the physical plant, and developed that special rapport between regular and bartender with the establishment’s owner, Phillip Mudd, through the years after college.
“I always hated to tell Phil what he ought to do, I never tell anybody what they ought to do – – nobody likes to hear that,” Somerville said. “But I think Phillip liked the ideas that I had, if I did have a bar.”
The ideas must have made an impression. One day, Somerville said, Mudd wrote a very attractive number on a napkin, passed it to him and said The Hideaway was available – – “business, lock, stock, inventory.” A few weeks later, The Green Lantern was resurrected.
But while Somerville’s new watering hole was open for business, its full potential would not be realized until almost a year later when the adjoining property to The Green Lantern, which had sat dormant as a storage area for 17 years and succumbed to all sorts of damage as a result of neglect, was furnished as a substantial music hall, complete with stage, dance floor and sitting area.
Looking at the success of Al’s Bar a few blocks to the north, buttressed with the CentrePointe project, which saw the displacement of venues like The Dame and Mia’s downtown, Somerville found the impetus to bring functionality to the space next to The Green Lantern.
“I was thinking, ‘Harry, you dumb son of a bitch, it’s right beside you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Build it and they will come,’” he said. “I just thought it would be cool to bring The Green Lantern back while at the same time bring in a music venue that this little neck of the woods hasn’t ever had.”
Somerville already had the idea for the kind of music venue he wanted from the time he had spent working in Indianola, Miss., doing construction. Indianola is the hometown of B.B. King and home to Club Ebony, a famed juke joint that has seen artists like King, Count Basie, James Brown and Ray Charles grace its stage. King bought the club earlier this year from the venue’s renowned owner, Mary Shepard (Momma Shepard), who ran Club Ebony for the past three decades, and who took care of Somerville when he was in the crowd. Somerville has a framed autograph of Shepard’s on a Club Ebony concert bill behind the bar of The Green Lantern.
“For a white guy to be accepted in those juke joints, you had to watch your mouth, you had to mind your manners and you had to pay your tab. And that’s the three rules we have here at The Green Lantern,” Somerville said. “I really liked that non-pretentious, New Orleans, Mississippi Delta kind of loose-feeling bar. You can be a millionaire and you can be Willy Loman, but once you walked across that threshold, you were all on the same scale. I really enjoyed the hell out of that.”
Still working with construction as a field manager, Somerville admits that juggling a day job, which pays the bills, with a bar, and all its entrapments, can be a major challenge, but he understands the importance of keeping his priorities straight.
“First and foremost is my day job. I’ll get knots in my stomach knowing something is sliding by (at the bar), and I have to let it slide and keep focused on what I’m doing,” he said.
Somerville hopes his establishment can eventually become a relaxing concoction of Club Ebony and the older Green Lantern. Fortunately for him, he’s received a lot of support from people, musicians and promoters included, interested in making a venue like The Green Lantern work in Lexington – – and he’s definitely not short on local bands looking for another place to play in town.
And while Somerville has spent a lot of time on one side of the bar, he says things sure look a whole lot different from the other side. “It’s been a comedy of errors and happy mistakes,” he said. “It’s a big exercise in patience and trying not to be too hard on myself – – definitely not too hard on the people kind enough to see the same vision.”