The hallowed hall at 127 W. Congress Street has been a haven, a landmark, a home to many, and a rite of passage for others.
For over two decades, The Jinx has evolved into more than a just another bar on the quickly changing Congress Street. Over the years, it’s morphed into the de-facto anchor of a vibrant and diverse music scene.
Caked in its dusty floorboards, and on the memorabilia bizarre coating the walls are the footprints of entire genres of music, the ghosts of Halloween nights, and the history of a place and a time. Every single piece of The Jinx’s interior carries a story from the people who formed the community around it.
No decor was shipped in to create a vibe with an eye for drawing in tourists or passerby’s. The Jinx was built from the ground up by patrons and employees, by a community of people with a love of music at the center of their lives.
"You don’t even have to interview us, just take pictures of these walls," longtime Jinx bartender, promoter and Jinx historian Gilbert Cruz said just before an interview with Do Savannah in 2018.
In a lengthy Facebook post on June 25, written by owner Susan Warnekros, The Jinx announced it had succumb to the changing tides of downtown Savannah and the wake of economic downturn due to the global pandemic caused COVID-19.
From Day One, The Jinx has been fighting to stay in the building at 127 W. Congress St. Warnekros had struggled with owners of the building in two previous cases. The prime real estate in a city that has embraced an expansive makeover to its downtown in recent years has been the target of investors for years now.
"I think the rise in property taxes a few years ago hurt the businesses in downtown, because our landlords passed that along to us," Warnekros said in an interview with Do Savannah.
According to Chatham County records, the total appraised value of the property at 127 W. Congress in 2014 was $346,300. By 2019, after steady increases over five years, it reached $2,470,100. The property tax has increased from $3,951.14 to $15,599.12 over that same time period. (2)
Through the years, Warnekros and company have fended off two owners hoping to update the location and kept the bar running as it is. This time was different. Already in an embattled struggle for survival with a new building owner the cancelation of St. Patrick’s Day — a massive revenue generator for all bars downtown — coupled with the pandemic-forced shut down of business, created a perfect storm of bad luck.
They fell behind on rent due to the pandemic and the building’s owner, Lokesh Patel (the name according to the Chatham County Records office) offered an ultimatum, according to Warnekros. If they close down in July, Patel agreed not to ask for the lost rent. For over a year, they’ve been searching for a new home, knowing that this was their last year at 127 W. Congress anyways.
"There’s no way to keep the building," Warnekros said. "Even if I come up with the last four months of rent tomorrow, the landlord still wants us to go. Even I came up with all that money, he’s enacting a clause in the lease which is that I defaulted my lease by not paying rent, so he has the right to evict me.
"We had a rough year and with St. Patrick’s Day being canceled, we spent everything we had on inventory. I think the way the mayor handled that was the best way he could have. I certainly don’t want anyone to feel like I am giving up. The building was sold a few years ago. I tried to purchase it. But I am never going to have $4 million dollars. I tried, but that didn’t happen."
The Jinx’s lease on the building expires on Dec. 31, 2020.
Warnekros and her brain trust of bartenders — who in more than one way act as co-owners and curators — decided it would be disingenuous to try and raise funds through crowd-sourcing for a location that they will eventually leave anyways.
"I am looking a few places, but I am totally open to anyone bringing me building ideas," Warnekros said. "It would be amazing to have a thousand people looking, instead of 10.
"It didn’t feel right asking for donations right now since we don’t know where our new home is and don’t know what our fundraising goal will be."
Instead, Warnekros has asked the small army of fans and patrons to wait until the time is right. When they find a new location, they will begin a fundraiser.
Akin to other important musical landmarks like Churchill Pub in Miami, Exit in Chicago, The Cavern in London, Crocodile Cafe in Seattle and 40 Watt in Athens — all of which have either shut down all together, changed owners, moved, changed names, closed and reopened at some point in their history — The Jinx will live on.
This is simply the end of an era, but an important one that has had local, national, and global impact on music.
"If there was anyway for us to stay in that building, I would have found it," Warnekros said. "I am in no way done with The Jinx, because I’ve never been in it for me. I’ve tried to create a future for that kind of venue and the community. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about the money."
OCT, 10, 2003
Sometime in 1993, The Velvet Elvis opened its doors at 127 W. Congress St. For ten years, a small community of musicians and like-minded souls began flocking there, including Warnekros. In 2003, the IRS came into the building and shut it down, according to several people who were there, including manager Tony Beasley. (Beasley later became the bar manager for The Jinx.)
Warnekros, having owned a couple of businesses before, and after falling in love with the vibe of the Velvet Elvis (later known as the Velvet Lounge due to a copyright infringement with the word Elvis) and the community around it, went straight to the building’s owners.
Warnekros was told when she went to sign the lease on the building that "they didn’t want it to be a tattoo bar. They wanted to go in a different direction."
"I was so grateful they told me that over the phone," Warnekros recalled. "It was August, hot as hell. I went to the meeting with a turtle neck and long sleeves with tights on. No visible tattoos and I think that’s the only way I got the lease (laughs)."
A community and a family formed around The Jinx built out of an unadulterated love for music. Most of the regulars, the bartenders and the door guys, are musicians themselves. A multitude of touring acts have adopted The Jinx as their own over the years.
"When a touring act comes to The Jinx, all the guys there, the bartenders, sound guy, door guy, are touring musicians too," Warnekros said. "I think they just felt at home. That goes a lot further than a giant guarantee."
Murder By Death first played the Velvet Elvis on March 26, 2003, months before it would shut down and then be re-birthed as The Jinx in October of that year. They would play The Jinx at least five more times through the years, despite out-growing the 150 capacity room.
"The community for sure is a big part of it," Murder By Death’s Adam Turla said. "Gil had us over for a huge cookout one time when we played there. Everyone always took really good care of us. The same people were there for a long time working, basically creating this community together. It was the kind of place that you could tell had an influence on the culture of the city."
"I think we first played The Jinx in 2003 — that night we met Susanne and the Black Tusk boys and became life long pals," ASG’s Jason Shi said. "We always felt welcome there, so sad to hear the doors are closing. Gonna miss that stage, the stiff drinks, the basement, hell even the bathroom. Would like to say thanks to Susanne and the Jinx team for always being so kind to us and long live Athon!!!"
On October 10, 2003, Kylesa and several other local bands opened The Jinx to the world. The name, The Jinx, was a sarcastic take on the bad luck of the building itself. The metal Jinx sign that still hangs over the bar was hand-crafted by Beasley early on as a surprise gift for Warnekros.
Originally, the walls wear mostly bare. Over the years, it’s been filled nearly to capacity with memorabilia from the community around the bar, including signed records from Murder By Death, Kylsea, Lucero, and Black Tusk. Each Halloween, The Jinx celebrates with a night of cover bands and a themed party. Each year, they re-decorate the entire bar in that theme. And each year, some of the decorations stay as a permanent memorial to the all hallows eve and the good times that are had.
One of the most poignant pieces on the curated wall of local history is a long horizontal black and white photo of a young Baroness on The Jinx stage. Smack in the middle of the crowd, standing tall, is Jason Statts tossing up devil horns.
Not too long after that photo was taken, Statts finished his bands first show and on his way home with bandmate David Williams, they were robbed at gunpoint. Williams was shot but made a full recovery. Statts was shot through the neck and survived. Now paralyzed, each year the family around The Jinx hosts Statts Fest in order to raise money for his ever-growing medical bills.
"They raised a ton of money for us," Williams said in a 2018 interview with Do Savannah. "I had lost my job a week prior to us getting shot. I didn’t have insurance, I didn’t have anything. The community, especially all the people who run The Jinx, and go to The Jinx that know us, really saved my life. I would have been on the streets if it wasn’t for them."
That opening night, Phillip Cope of Damad and Kylsea said was one his all-time favorite shows.
"I remember thinking, that was going to be one of greatest shows Kylsea would play because the vibe in there was so awesome," Cope recalled. "People were so stoked. It felt great. It was one of the best feeling shows I’ve ever played. I remember thinking, I don’t think I’ll ever play a show that feels this awesome again."
In those early days, metal giants Kylesa and Grammy nominated Baroness were young and eager. Warnekros let them practice in the basement of The Jinx during the day until neighbors complained that it was too loud.
Kylesa’s "Static Tensions" was written in the basement of The Jinx. As was another landmark album that Cope produced.
"I was at the opening night of the Velvet Elvis and the opening night of The Jinx," Cope said. "I was practicing there when it was still a thrift store. Years later we were practicing with Kylsea down there. We wrote ‘Static Tensions’ in the basement. I think Baroness wrote the ‘Red Album’ in that basement. I know they practiced there at that time."
Both of those albums would later be considered the spear tip of sludge metal—a genre of heavy metal that began with the Melvins’ debut album, but took hold in the south with bands like EyeHateGod, Weedeater, Crowbar, Torche, and High on Fire, all of which have played The Jinx.
Along with New Orleans, Savannah and The Jinx is the undisputed home to the geniuses of sludge metal. The genre’s close cousin, stoner metal (stoner rock) has always found a home at The Jinx as well.
Akin to sludge, but with more punk in its blood, Black Tusk in its early years were essentially the house band, according to frontman Andrew Fidler, who along with bassist Johnathon Athon, and drummer James May (who also bartended there for a while) all but lived in the bar and helped build or fix most of the bar’s interior, including the stage.
"Athon and I lived at The Jinx for like a decade," Fidler said. "We built most of the stuff in there. That was my home. Igor (Fiksman from Damon and the Sh!tkickers) calls it church."
When Athon passed suddenly in November of 2014, the community did what it does each time they lose a member of the family, they converged on The Jinx to mourn, to toast, to laugh, to share stories, to continue the memory of the departed. This was as true for Athon as it was for Do Savannah writer and Jinx family member Niema Ross who passed in October of 2018, Damad front woman Victoria Scalisi and others. Photos and paintings of Athon and Scalasi were added to the wall in memory.
EVERYTHING BUT JAZZ
Thousands of bands, some of them now quite famous, have played The Jinx and the Velvet Elvis since 1993. A small fraction of those include Fall Out Boy, Coheed and Cambria, HR from Bad Brains, one of the Ramones, Hank Williams III, Torche, Mastodon, ASG, Murder By Death, Evergreen Terrace, Hate Breed, As I Lay Dying, Norma Jean, Goatwhore, Damad, Jeff The Brotherhood, American Aquarium, Shovels and Rope, Floor, The Mountain Goats, Scott H. Biram, Billy Joe Shaver, Passafire, Lucero, Protomatyr, Parker Gispert, Susto, the "greatest rock ’n’ roll band on earth" Jeff Two Names and The Born Agains, and on and on the list goes.
"We’ve always been an eclectic bar," Beasley said in an interview with Do Savannah in 2018. "Whether it’s hip-hop night, or a dance night, or honky tonk or metal. It’s always been. If anyone in the staff likes something, then we’ll be let’s give that a try. We’ve done so many different kinds of bands and acts that have come through there. There’s not a certain Jinx sound."
Since inception The Jinx has been a haven for punks and metal heads as much as it has been for cowboys and rappers. A unique concoction and celebration of diversity that stems from a pure love of music.
"The Jinx formerly The Velvet Elvis is a Savannah underground staple," Jimmy Drescher of Murphy’s Law said. "A proper punk dive bar with a great stage run by the people that love and make music. They support touring bands and treat them like family. I’ve been lucky enough to have played there many times and always have a great time. I wish them all the best in these hard times."
"Although the metal scene flourished there, it was open to all kinds of music," Cope said. "It was a musician’s place. A place for people who loved music and artists. So much happened there between both venues. There’s a lot history in that building."
Damon the Sh!tkickers, a classic country western band, have played every Saturday for the last 12 years. Beasley’s outlaw country band was also a staple, and myriad of country and southern rock bands have played The Jinx. Even more indie-rock, pop-punk, hardcore punk, post-punk, noise rock, garage rock, singer-songwriter, folk rock, and blues bands have also played. Everything but jazz.
"It’s just a love of music, that’s why we do it," Warnekros said. "Not being too inclusive about it. It’s not just about one kind of music. With the exception of jazz. I just can’t (laughs)."
(Although, Velvet Caravan would be an exception to that.)
For 15 years, on and off, Steven Bumgardner (DJ Basik Lee) hosted hip-hop night on Tuesdays. Along with his Dope Sandwich crew, they brought several big name through Savannah and The Jinx.
"It was one of the few places around here where musicians, especially with hip-hop, were allowed to do the music they wanted to do," Bumgardner said. "I would go to clubs and they would want a certain thing. When we were doing our thing with Dope Sandwich, it took a while before other places would allow us to play there. The Jinx was the one place that we were always welcomed. It’s been a beautiful thing."
Beyond music, The Jinx has acted as an incubator and inception point for arts performers, promoters, and bands willing to try something new and put it out there.
For seven years, it’s been the home to Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue. Founders Wendy Denney and Anita Narcisse based their troupe’s ethos on the same structure of a rock ’n’ roll bands, inspired by their friends at The Jinx.
Savannah Sweet Tease hosted a plethora of shows at The Jinx and the first annual Savannah Burlesque Festival which featured over 70 acts. They’ve have toured across the nation over the last seven years with their acts, like a rock band.
"Maybe it’s because we have a lot of friends in bands," Denney said in an interview with Do Savannah in 2017. "That’s all that we knew, was how they do it. When we were building tours, one of the people we talked to in the beginning was Athon. He was a good friend of ours. We were like, where do we go? What do we do? We wanted to stick to punk rock bars, because that’s what we’re used to."
AURA Fest promoter Timothy Walls got his start at the Velvet Elvis, and credits the venue for giving him free-range to bring in acts when he was a young.
"The Velvet was really open-minding about letting me book," Walls said. "The first notable thing I did in Savannah was book Hate Breed at the Velvet Elvis. They were on Oz Fest that year. That was my first big show. After that, they just let me do my thing.
"I cut my teeth as a promotor in The Jinx. They kind of gave me free-range. It’s been an institution for live music for a lot of different styles."
IN THE END
Beyond brick and mortar, The Jinx is a living, breathing community of people who will carry on past 127 W. Congress Street and into an unknown future, grounded in a shared love of music and a celebration of art and life.
"I know there’s a lot of talk about the building," Cope said. "And I certainly have tons of memories in that building. But at the end of the day it’s the people that make it this. Hopefully, that same vibe can continue on somewhere else in Savannah.
"It is sad to lose the history of that building, but at the same time, what made it so cool was the people, the community, the vibe. Savannah has had a great community of people for years and that community is not going anywhere."
"It is the end of the era, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of good shows, or good opportunities," Warnekros said. "Life is about evolution. This is our next step. That’s all that it is.
"I met my husband there. I got engaged there. And I saw so many of my friends do the same thing. Giant milestones in their lives. Aside from the music, it’s also a home to so many people that I love. I don’t want to let anyone down. I am willing to carry that weight. I don’t think another venue in this town can do what we do without our staff."