Tuesday, May 17, 2005

MJQ Lounge: George Lives!


As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Eastside Lounge in East Atlanta when I decided to visit an underground club (figuratively) that I used to frequent once upon a time. As the story goes, it all started back in a kitchen...

I met George back when I was a line cook at Bridgetown Grill in L5P, Atlanta -- it was one of those auspicious life moments that you don't recognize until you look back in hindsight. See, unlike most restaurants where the cooks toil away hidden in a firey dungeon behind swinging doors at the back of the house, at BTG we were on full display, like in a sushi joint. -- as soon as you walked in the front door from off the street there was a small brick topped wine/ beer bar (with about seven stools). Attached to the bar was a tall skinny reach-in fridge which was connected to a big-ass six panel hood (a huge ventilation fan system which siphons cooking smoke up to the roof), underneath the hood was a raised salamander (an industrial-sized broiling oven) positioned at eye level - perfect for cooking 8 oz. slabs of fresh fish, melting the cheese on black bean nachos and burning of eyebrows. Beneath the "sally" was a small four-eye stove we'd use to cook Fred Flintstone-sized pots of blackbeans and rice. The "shorty" was lodged to the left of the open flame grill, the real work horse of the whole kitchen set up: it had eight ceramic elements which kept whomever cooked on it drenched in sweat for the duration of his stay...

When I worked at the spot, it was jumping from Thursday until Sunday on the regular...people from the hood and the suburban hinterlands alike queued up for the Jamaico-Cuban grub...they'd file in licking their chops while they watched us "turn 'em and burn 'em." so you couldn't afford to punk out under pressure...cooks tore all of their orders in little rectangles of scrolled paper that spewed out of a small ink jet printer which was connected to server registers at stations throughout the building - when we got "in the weeds" (had a full house and a constant stream of tickets still rolling in like mortar fire) the printer would start burping out coils
of service data while laying down a barrage of noise not unlike the report of an AK -47 rifle; sometimes my left eye still starts twitching and my pulse raises when I'm getting rung up at Ralphs. We'd take the little pieces of paper, seperate the orders appropriately (appetizers, main course or to-go orders) to place them on the line (30 wooden clothes pins laced on a 5-foot long stretch of wire) and when the order were cooked an plated we'd pull them off the line with our greasy mits, rip a little tear at the bottom to denote they were up and impale the paper on a little iron spike just beneath the line of wooden pins...

"I'm opening my club this weekend," George said to me triumphantly one day from the other side of the clothes pins. George was a tall, lanky Chinese guy who lived in/ around L5P. I can still recall the way his horn-rimmed specs would shake disapprovingly from side to side whenever some weekend warrior/ tourist visiting our neighborhood asked dumb-ass questions about the music (mostly, ska, rocksteady and reggae) that BTG played over the sound system. See, Georgie was a dyed-in-the-wool Mod (in the American sense of the word, while he was into classic R&B and ska, he wasn't no slouch in the vintage hip hop or New Wave departments
either). We'd share pitchers and talk about the music that mattered to us at the Point, the Yacht Club or even (if I was just finishing my shift) in BTG: two-tone ska, old school hip hop but mostly, his favorite genre of all: jazz). We've spent many hours (and pints of the brown stuff) discussing the messages sent in Coltrane glisses (my fave) and the modal grooves laid down by John Lewis' Modern Jazz Quartet (his end-all be all ambassadors of sound) -- George was a DJ sometimes and he dabbled in photography/ art too so an aside about Ryuuchi Sakamoto, Afrika Bambaataa or DeKooning, Salvador Dali or Pollack was never out of the question during one of our pow-wows, either...

"I've got all of the paperwork, kid," he continued. "My place has passed all of the requisite inspections so it's a go!" After cutting a look over my shoulder at him (I was cooking some vittles at the time), "Where is it at?" I asked. "It's in the basement of that little Hotel over on Ponce, you know right next to the Phoenix?" George had decided long before then, I think it was during a Romeo Cologne, "Disco Tuesday" over at the Star Bar, that he wanted to open a spot for types like us to kick it in - people who knew and loved all types of music and good conversation...

He wanted to call the place "MJQ" in homage to his favorite jazz act and thus he did. Initially MJQ was a place that neighborhood peeps patronized, primarily after work hours as most of us were working on creative things while holding down day jobs in some branch of "hospitality services" which worked out well - the place wouldn't start swinging until about 3:30-ish because of the latter. George kept the prices low, the door list short and if you were a 5-Pointer, you were chillin' like Bob Dylan. The club became popular on word of mouth alone but eventually the college set and all sorts of posers managed to gorilla their way in on the spot and the laid back neighborhood lounge feel began to dissipate, this took about two years to fully transpire but I ran for the border (Los Angeles, as it were) before I could witness any of that shite first hand. I'd get reports about this or that from friends over the years about somebody from the L5P 'hood getting tucked up by toughs from somewere other than, L5P. Guess that's life in the big city,yo...

Of all the things George was, he was also gay and when I heard that he'd died due to complications from the disease, I felt some really mental shitty back in L.A. I was too broke at the time to go back and see what was up but I don't even think that mattered because he was all about the real and getting your shite sorted personally and creatively...I think, ostensibly, that's part of the reason he wanted to launch MJQ, personally. To give fancy-pantsed artsy farts a safe haven from the neon King Kong clubs that only wanted you around when your pockets were packed with greenies...MJQ was an anomoly in that way, well at least for a minute...

Since its launch in the 90's MJQ has moved to another spot further up Ponce de Leon which is bigger than the original and is buried deep underneath a parking lot in a hill (not a typo). While MJQ still bears the same name, the feel of the place is nothing like it was...there's two main rooms in the new facility, in the one on the left, the crowd was 95% yuppies and the others were dance club punters on the booty patrol...too loud to talk...to crowded to even move around in, actually. The one on the right was almost a scale model of the original club that George had launched at the bottom of that transient hotel years back and because of this, even though it too wasn't the same, I kept expecting George to slide up next to me to holla for a second...ask me if I needed a beer (which he'd reach behind the bar and grab himself)...shoot the shite...and argue with me about some semiotic aspect of a Charles Mingus bass riff or why the Selecter was the best thing to happen to British Ska and not the Specials...but that never happened for obvious reasons...

While standing in this "rendition" of MJQ, I gazed around the place and joked that George had a dream and this was not it; his corpse is getting dirt-burn from spinning because the gooks have certainly infiltrated the wire but then, it's been a "dance club" longer than it's been a lounge, so I might be wrong on that one -- same reason you don't see Neanderthals and Australopithecines walking around or sitting beside you in a subway car -- evolution, son...rest well George, you're definitely remembered...Laters.

side note: Although the "cracking Julie" that I spoke with at the Eastside Lounge knew about George and most of the above, later, just before I left town, I was talking to a bartender (surprise!) while hanging out at Six Feet Under and he told me that he'd been frequenting MJQ for years now (he knew a DJ who spins there too) yet he had never heard about the joint's origin; the basement club that it once was; where the name came from or whose concept it was which compelled me to piece it out here, once I got back home...I thought it only fitting to give an old friend his dap...I'm sure he'd laugh at the title...Charlie "Bird" Parker was his favorite sax player...but that too is an argument he and I won't ever have again...double Laters...

3 Comments:

Blogger Dennis said...

Who could forget the old MJQ? The new one pales in comparison. I quit going completely after a bouncer randomly attacked me one night around '02 (seems that is a common theme).

I bumped into Taka recently and asked him to make a mix for my weekly podcast... check it here if you're interested

5:19 AM, March 01, 2007  
Blogger Michaela said...

Beautiful post. I feel as though I'd known both George and his lounge.

10:50 AM, March 01, 2007  
Anonymous Rakesh said...

Hey, thanks for the post about George and the real MJQ. I didn't know him well, but remember playing a pick-up football (soccer) match with him. He showed up in these 70's short-short Adidas football shorts. And damn was he tall.

MJQ was a great place in the original. They even served Clearly Canadian soda. I can still visualize the black and white Mod mural on the wall and the 15x15 ft dance floor. You could just get up and shake it when you felt like it. What a great place, that was overrun by the Buckhead set way too soon (it was over by 1999 if you ask me). The new location was a totally different place -- MJQ in name only, not in soul.

It's been a long time -- hope you don't mind if I write my own take on this on my blog. Thanks for the inspiration.

11:44 AM, April 15, 2007  

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