At 2926 Cherokee Street, owner/manager Julie Sommer is getting close to opening a different kind of Cherokee bar -- one she hopes will appeal to an older, more sophisticated clientele. The Blue Pearl plans to feature roots music and light food offerings.
The business has already had its hearing for a liquor license. While Sommer needs to apply for occupancy and health department permits before her license can be finalized, her goal is to open within the next few months.
Sommer explains, "Part of the idea for the space was to appeal to an older, working crowd. Basically, I still love to hear live music, but I am older and work a lot, so I don't want to go out to see a band that doesn't even start until 11 p.m. or midnight. ... I think a lot of 'non-traditional' folks in the Cherokee neighborhood and St. Louis generally might welcome the idea of early live music. There are many contractors, artists, and other self-employed entrepreneurs who I believe would appreciate the opportunity to go to a nice place to hear music in the late afternoon or early evening."
The hours aren't yet set, but Sommer expects to be open to the public four days per week. In addition to a full bar, she plans to serve salads and simple snacks -- dried fruits, pickled beets and marinated olives.
Even before its opening, the bar has already become part of the Cherokee Street scene. Local film maker Bill Streeter used The Blue Pearl as one of many locations for his Lo-Fi Cherokee music video series, with the soon-to-open venue hosting the performance of local "hyperactive synth and guitar rock band" Whoa Thunder. [The Lo-Fi series premieres this Friday, May 29 on Jefferson Avenue near Cherokee Street. Event information here.]
We caught up with Sommer via email to get the details:
How did you decide on the name Blue Pearl?
I like the idea of blue. The ocean and the seas have been a big inspiration to me in many ways. Also, blues music is my favorite music, and Janis Joplin is my favorite singer. Her nickname was Pearl. I also appreciate pearls and other gems that come from the Earth ... so beautiful and their creation is part of the great mystery of life. Pearls in particular develop into something beautiful and perfect over time from an imperfection inside of something else ... I think that's neat.
Do you have any co-owners or business partners?
No, but my husband, Alan, has been very helpful in coordinating subcontractors for the major systems during construction, as well as helping me figure out the wiring and set up for the Internet, security, and sound system.
Will you also be the manager?
I am hopeful that the universe will send me an experienced, creative, professional manager/bartender to handle day-to-day operations, and I will play a more behind-the-scenes administrative role overseeing "quality control" and keeping the books. There is an existing vision and I have worked hard to build something the past few years (as my time has allowed) so I am looking for someone who can embrace the idea, recognize the opportunity, and help me create something awesome and unique.
How did you find your space?
Around the time we bought our house in Tower Grove South, by a fluke we went to the first People's Joy Parade and that is how we discovered Cherokee Street. Being St. Louis transplants, we did not know anyone or anything about the neighborhood at the time, but of course fell in love with the characters on the street and the character and history in the buildings. Because we rehab historic apartment buildings, when I saw an old boarded-up storefront, I was very intrigued and asked a realtor to get us in. I liked that it was mixed use (three residential units and one commercial) and fell in love when we saw the tin ceiling. At the time it was a pretty dingy board-up with a black, crusty ceiling and awful pastel paint peeling off the walls covered by about 30 years worth of nicotine stains.
Why Cherokee Street?
As you know, there have been literally dozens of new businesses opening on Cherokee for the last couple of years, and I'm guessing many of those business owners chose to open their businesses on Cherokee. We just stumbled into Cherokee, found a great building, rehabbed it, and it had a historical storefront that was just begging to be something again! It just happened to be on Cherokee Street. Of course the neighborhood can't be beat, but we did not really know that when my husband and I made the initial investment and brought the building back to life.
Turn the page for more about Julie Sommer's plans for The Blue Pearl.
You said this isn't your primary business. What inspired you to open the Blue Pearl?
Many years ago, when we lived in southern Illinois, I was introduced to Cairo, Illinois. That was what first planted the seed of opening a music venue in a historic building. Cairo has an incredible history and some great blues legends played there like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Pinetop Perkins and others. From a financial standpoint, Cairo would be considered pretty depressed (having lost most of its population and jobs since its heyday) so I wanted to open a place that was a blues club in the evening and an ice cream and soda fountain during the day so the Cairo kids would have somewhere nice to go after school and on the weekends. (Of course they would have had to scram before the blues started at night!) I pictured an old-timey juke joint I guess, but it was when we were just starting our second business and our life transitioned to St. Louis, so Cairo fell to the way side.
Years later, I wound up on Cherokee Street in a lively neighborhood full of creative, independent-minded people who appreciate music. Our building is beautiful and you can just feel the history of the place when you're in there (if only the bullet holes in the tin ceiling could tell their stories). So I guess the place itself inspired me.
What kind of place do you want it to be? What can patrons expect in a night at the Blue Pearl?
I want it to be unique but simple, laid-back but elegant, refreshing and inspiring, with great music -- whether live or on the jukebox.
The Blue Pearl will (eventually, at least) have live music-- what kind of live music?
I hope to showcase acoustic blues, bluegrass, Americana, Gospel, reggae, Appalachian, Native, or anything that could be generally construed as roots music. I am not opposed to singer-songwriters or folk music (in fact I love Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Woody Guthrie, etc.) but I do not want to have a coffeehouse vibe. I like some good old-fashioned rock 'n roll intensity and, well, roots in my music.
I see that you have a painting of Jerry Garcia hanging on the wall at the bar. Is that an indication that you're going to book jam bands?
While I'm certainly not opposed to smaller groups or acoustic versions of jam bands, the painting is not necessarily an indication of anything, really. While Jerry occupies an important place in my heart, the painting was not planned or a statement or anything. I was just out on Cherokee one evening and the great artist Mark Swain was selling his paintings in front of 2720. (And painting live, I believe.) If you saw the painting, you know I had to buy it! Plus Jerry loved a lot of music and was a great artist so maybe it is fitting that he is there watching over things and making sure we meet some high musical standards.
To get in touch with Sommer about booking your band, email her at Julie@bluepearloncherokee.com.