Venkman’s , the new restaurant/bar/music venue/entertainment concept from Nick Niespodziani, Peter Olson and chef Nick Melvin, is set to open in the Old Fourth Ward sometime in mid-September.
You may not know Niespodziani and Olson by name. But if you live in Atlanta, you’ll likely recognize them as the wild-style co-front men of Yacht Rock Revue — the comedic band they modestly call “the Greatest Show on Surf and the finest tribute to ’70s light rock to ever perform anywhere.”
Niespodziani and Olson also are the co-founders of PleaseRock, which books and promotes a bevy of other bands, including Yacht Rock Schooner, the Whiskey Gentry and Blair Crimmins and the Hookers.
Of course, Melvin is a well known local chef (Rosebud, Parish, Empire State South) and founder of Doux South Pickles.
Venkman’s is located in the former NuGrape Soda Factory, across the street from Bantam Pub, and not far from Ponce City Market and Old Fourth Ward Park.
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PR promises it will “bring an entirely new experience to the Atlanta entertainment and culinary scenes by offering eclectic live music and creative comfort food under one roof.”
That means artists from the PleaseRock roster, and everything from bluegrass, country and rock to soul, funk and, of course, yacht rock.
PR also says that Melvin will introduce “a playful menu that showcases his refined, creative twists on classic comfort cuisine.”
We’re talking about the likes of Georgia Clams with boudin balls, Cast-Iron Fried Chicken, and Chicken Fried Tofu with jalapeno slaw served on a sweet potato bun.
Venkman’s bar program will feature classic cocktails, lots of local beers and rosé on tap, plus signature boozy slushies, named to match the night’s music selection.
Adding to the festivities, Niespodziani and Olson will spin their favorite album sides during DJ sets on Tuesdays during the opening month.
“So I might be spinning ‘Talking Book’ and you can come talk to me about music and the restaurant and what you want to hear and what you want to eat,” Niespodziani told me recently, when I stopped by to tour the space, which was still under construction.
Designed by local architecture firm ai3, the aesthetic pays homage to vintage lounges. And the build-out, which is essentially contained in one large open room with unobstructed sight lines, features an open kitchen with chef's table seating and views of the stage.
Walking around for a bit of show and tell, Niespodziani was particularly proud of the sound booth, which he designed and built with his father to resemble a vintage ’60s console stereo. Melvin pointed out the compact kitchen, which is shiny and new, and tucked into a corner.
“We met through a business advisor,” Melvin said, when I asked how Venkman’s came to be.
“Nick and Pete were looking to open up a music venue that was a place that they would actually want to go to and bring there friends. Something that was a little more polished.
"I was looking to open a great neighborhood spot that wasn’t pretentious, that was more just fun-comfort. We came together around the love of music and good food and merged the two ideas.”
“I loved it when you said you were taking the skills you had learned in fine dining and applying those techniques and skills to the stuff your mom used to cook,” Niespodziani said, joining the conversation. “That’s a great way to look at it.”
“From a musical side, we started out in the basement at the 10 High, below the Dark Horse in Virginia-Highland, and we’d always think to ourselves, ‘If we lived in a perfect world, what would that look like for our Thursday night gig?’ That’s kind of where the whole thing started.
“But we’ve taken things from Atlanta music venues that we love and from venues like the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg or the Hamilton in Washington DC, that really capture that combination of music and food so well.”
Joking, I asked Niespodziani if Venkman’s could be Yacht Rock’s version of Branson.
“My dream would be to get somebody who could play a much bigger venue, like an Elvis Costello or a Sturgill Simpson, to come play an exclusive small show here,” he said.
“I think we have the coolest sound booth anywhere and one of the largest. On the back wall between the main room and the green room, we’re going have a painting that you can pull the eyes out of so you can spy on what’s going on. Best of all, it’s going to be the easiest load-in in Atlanta.”
When I asked Melvin to describe the concept for the menu, he had a surefire answer.
“It’s creative comfort food,” he said. “It’s very familiar. It’s not pretentious. It’s fun. It’s just like these guys when they play music. It’s liking drinking a pina colada, walking down the street.”
But Niespodziani had his own, slightly more skewed take.
“Your uncle, who lives in the suburbs and doesn’t go out to eat at fancy restaurants all the time — you can bring him, along with your cousin, who is a yuppie foodie nerd, and I think they can both find a lot they will like on the menu,” he said.
Finally, when I wondered how Niespodziani might sum up Venkman’s in terms of the current Atlanta music scene, he turned a bit more serious.
“A lot of people are doom and gloom about the Atlanta music scene, with the things that are going on with Masquerade and Smith’s, but this is an example of some new life,” he said. “We use PleaseRock as an opportunity to further our musician network and help people that we think are really good get work. Now we will bring some of them here.
“I think we’re developing the music scene in a way that’s very community oriented. The old school music scene was kind of looked at as a zero sum game. Like every promoter was trying to screw every band out of every dollar they could. We see that differently. And so far that’s been working for us and we hope it continues to work for us here.”
If you finished reading this and it made you want to hear some yacht rock and eat some food and have some drinks, you can do all that tonight at Eats & Beats at the Buckhead Theatre. It's for two good causes, the Giving Kitchen and Children of Conservation. And Yacht Rock Revue will be covering the Beatles. Tickets: $75-$175 here or at the door.