For his 24th birthday, Nicholas Alsup celebrated with a cosplay-themed party at what's now his very own club, a 6,500-square-foot, multi-leveled room on the edge of Soulard called the Archive. Originally a library, 706 Lafayette Avenue has seen a series of concepts come and go over the past decade, with the Archive (dubbed a "Music House & Southern Grill") launched this summer. The operator of that incarnation, Tim Warren, has stuck around to serve as Alsup's partner, bar manager and daily operator.
It's a probably a good idea that Alsup has a dedicated crew in place, as his life's plan is a bit ambitious. A conversation at the bar isn't so much a straight-line discussion about a first-time club owner taking on a huge project. Instead, it's a journey through a thicket of Alsup's interests, from his early bookings of metal bands in southwestern Illinois coffeehouses, to his sixteen-year run as a championship-level tai chi practitioner, to his desire to see the Archive attached to what every new St. Louis bar desires these days: its own recording studio.
"It's really been a dream come true," the gregarious Alsup says. "My personal time investment in this place is to make it become something that draws international, regional and local acts playing on this stage in 2017. So far, that lineup's looking pretty good."
It's not just music; the Archive promises eats to serve the hungry and drinks for the parched.
"Our kitchen's up and running," Alsup says. "We have a full bar. There's a basement here that no one knows about, which we're turning into a studio, mixed into other rooms that you can rent for parties and events. You can rent this main space as well, and we've already had all kinds of events here, experiencing the ambiance."
For sure, the building's general vibe is what has kept people interested in making it work. Located just across the street from Soulard Market and formerly home to Carnegie's, the Library, Woodie's and the Soulard Supper Club, the one-time Carnegie Library offers a host of positives, not the least of which is the fact that's it's just far enough removed from residences that a good time can be had without too much hassle to neighbors. There's also the wood-on-wood stage, which anchors the center of the main bar room, and all sorts of nooks and crannies on the mezzanine. And, of course, there's the connection to a wider music-and-bar culture of Soulard.
Set back from the street, though, up an imposing set of steps, the venue can also seem a bit removed from the action. Right now, eight large American flags and a string of PBR banners crackle in the winter winds, but Alsup plans on beefing up the signage outside, as "the biggest issue is people not knowing that this is a bar. They walk right past it and don't know what it is, so I'm looking into banners, signs. Really make it look like a full-on bar. It's a big issue for us and we'll be changing it very soon."
In a sense, Alsup's going to be reliant on a steady stream of different people coming into the room. Already, the club has hosted hip-hop, reggae and metal acts, alongside some comedy and Alsup's birthday masquerade party. In effect, the business won't be built on the dollars of nightly regulars, but on a stream of one-night guests giving a concert venue vibe. With an official capacity of 280 but room for nearly twice that, the space has a quaint feel to it.
A lot of folks have put a stamp on the place over the years — including Alsup, who's added a splash of hip-hop/graffiti-inspired artwork — but the obvious bones of an amazing club have always been in place.
"Every single person who's walked in so far has said, 'Wow,'" Alsup says. "They look up, look around, see the woodwork, the bar. The sound here is great, really plush. You get this old-but-new feel at the same time. I'd say it's both rustic and modern."
Alsup sees this behemoth of a building as dovetailing into his other life missions. For example, he teaches tai chi and self-defense courses in and around his hometown of O'Fallon, Illinois; more could take place at the Archive, Alsup says, as "all you have to do is move around those tables." He's worked with his own record label (as a producer, financier and artist) dubbed Paradigm Symphony. He sees the potential basement studio space as a location to record his acts. (The money underwriting all these projects, he says, comes from his martial arts work and his family's company, Alsup LLC, which also owns a nail salon.)
Alsup says that his combination of interests are, in an interesting choice of wording, "a database. It's allowed me to pull together a lot of good stuff."
Sitting on the second-floor deck, overlooking the primary bar area, Alsup points down to Warren, his pink mohawk visible below.
"He'd had it for three and half, four months," Alsup says. "These lights, he hung up. The sound was already good. Naturally, everything just fit. I walked in, hosted a show and everyone enjoyed what became of it. It hadn't been doing well, so I thought, 'I'll take it over, put in my plan of action — a successful plan of action.'"
Alsup says his plans are both "organic" and that he has a "three-to-five year business plan for all of them." Asked further about what it will take to turn around a space that's claimed more than a few concepts in recent years alone, Alsup answers with a mix of inspirational quotes and what seems to be his own blend of philosophy, against which the more mundane, dollars-and-cents aspects of building a business seem secondary to finding the perfect vibe.
"I'm about studying the art of people," he says. "I've seen different factions come in and have seen different signs of success. This is about understanding the psychology of people, what they're doing, how we're branding. We're catering to a larger mass now. It'll take more effort to see the response."