By Eve Kucharski
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter
Bordering the very edge of the Lansing city limits, Macs Bar is an establishment that one might overlook at first glance. From the outside, the 2700 E. Michigan Ave. venue is fairly nondescript. It is a square building, painted black, with a simple sign posted out front: “Macs Bar Live Music.”
Should one be adventurous enough to enter, it soon becomes obvious that Macs Bar is not a typical concert hall. It steers away from mainstream, Top 40 charting artists, and instead books music that one could classify as “underground.” Hosting bands with names as eclectic as their lineup, the venue has been visited by the likes of Frontier Ruckus, Mastodon, and The Polish Ambassador. Names that likely are unfamiliar to average radio listener.
Still for those who know what they’re looking for, the nationally recognized touring spot can be a destination. Recent Miami transplant Rebecca Francken agrees.
“When I first moved here, I asked people about the music scene,” said Francken. “And they instantly said Macs [Bar].”
Though the Michigan State University dietetics major has yet to visit Macs Bar, she said she wants to, but it is an issue of time.
“I want to so bad,” said Francken. “The bar scene in Lansing is just so much better. [But] it’s hard because being a college kid I spend most of my weekends studying.”
For those who are unrestricted by the coursework of college life, Macs Bar can become a regular meeting place. Lansing resident Freddy Shorty has been coming to the bar for several years now.
“It’s coming up on two years now,” said Shorty. “The first time I came here was [on] Neon Tuesday. I remember, that’s where I met a lot of people who pass through here. There’s a lot of character here.”
Neon Tuesday is just one of the several themed nights that Macs Bar is hosts. Tuesdays focus on DJs who mix their music live for the audience, turning the bar into a temporary electronic nightclub.
Jason Patino, a local DJ and promoter, has been involved in Lansing’s music scene for over 20 years. He performed at the bar Feb. 16, mixing his music on all-vinyl records. When asked what his favorite spot to appear live in Lansing was, he said the Temple Nightclub: a now-closed venue, far bigger than Macs Bar, which closed its doors in 2006.
“The Temple [Night]club was always great,” said Patino. “It was just huge, it was an old church so it had like a lower bar, [which] held about a 100 people, the upstairs had two floors to it and between the two floors it held 600 people.”
And comparatively there is no denying it, Macs Bar is an intimate venue. According to 8-year veteran bartender Craig Doepker, Macs Bar has a capacity of 112. Doepker remembers that when he was a teenager in the mid-nineties, the bar was an even more intimate setting.
“When it was still just a regular old guys bar, they would have to wait till the regulars were done playing darts,” said Doepker. “They would set up a stage where the dart boards were at that time, the floor was just raised, maybe like an inch or two.”
When Macs was first starting to book shows, the founder of ETCH MAGAZINE, Kenny Knott, was the primary promoter. Doepker would read about the venue in the magazine and even wanted to play there with his band at the time. Although he never got a chance with that band, he later got his shot when he started playing electronic music.
“I started making downtempo trip hop,” said Doepker. “Before I worked here I got to play here as my weird electronic project and Chuck invited me back.”
Chuck Mannino, is the current owner of Macs bar, and has been since 2006. He invited Doepker to work as a bouncer, and eventually he worked his way up to his bar tending position now. Doepker said he sticks to Macs Bar because of its atmosphere.
“It’s like a personality of its own, and everybody’s left their little stamp on it,” said Doepker. “I like to enjoy a place and feel comfortable, and I feel comfortable here.”
Still, even though it’s a fairly known venue, it isn’t for everyone. Theio’s restaurant employee Kylie Diaz works across the street from Macs Bar. The 24-hour diner employee said that though she serves a lot of the bands and people who see the shows at Macs Bar, she isn’t too familiar with it.
“It’s not my music,” said Diaz. “We get the traffic, but I get the innocent part of the traffic. Usually they do bring in a crowd when they have a band. I’ve been here almost 23 years and it’s cool, but I don’t know much about it.”
Promoter Scott Bell hopes to change that. He works for Fusion Shows, a booking company that books primarily in Lansing, but ventures out to Detroit and Grand Rapids as well. Also Lansing born, Bell says the biggest challenge to booking bands for a venue like Macs Bar, is that it’s so close to two college campuses. Both Lansing Community College and MSU are close to the venue, providing a uniquely challenging situation because of student turnover.
“Every three to four years there is another reboot in what’s cool,” said Bell. “That’s why bands don’t plant themselves here for long.”
But Bell remains positive about Lansing’s music scene. Even though there aren’t many venues in the city, Bell said he considers Macs Bar, one of the great ones.
“I think Lansing has three or four great opportunities for music,” said Bell. “Rooms where people can express themselves.”