From the (figurative) ashes of Hang Fire Bar, mix-master Wes Daniel is raising some sophisticated Cain. Written by Cléa Hernandez. Photography by Izzy Hudgins.
Last call for Hang Fire nostalgia. After a mercifully brief hiatus following the beloved venue’s closure (due to residential noise squabbles), co-owner Wes Daniel will soon be ready to rock again. With a little help from friends, El-Rocko Lounge will have equal parts relic and rollick on tap by the end of March.
Daniel is opening the lounge with his best friend from childhood and fellow Savannah native, Kieffer Parker. They met as 16-year-olds at a keg party while listening to Georgia jangle-pop band Guadalcanal Diary.
“We grew up all over this city,” says Daniel. “I’ve been to every school in Savannah. I went to high school at Memorial, Beach, Jenkins, and I summered at Winter. I’ve also been jailed in Tybee, Thunderbolt and Savannah-Chatham.”
He adds that the very space where El-Rocko will stand—on the corner of Whitaker and State streets—was once California Tattoo Studio where he got inked with a bi-plane, an homage to his erstwhile job at the airport.
“Next door, where Tequila’s Town is now, was my favorite bar: Jim Collins,” recalls Daniel. “I was kicked out for a year by my high school French teacher, who was a bartender. He banned me for cutting a watermelon on the bar and leaving a mess. But it had been building up for a while; there were other incidents.”
Though nostalgia courses through El-Rocko’s concept, Daniel and Parker want a definite departure in style from Hang Fire. Daniel’s “special ladyfriend,” otherworldly artist and stylist Ikeda Feingold, will design the interior.
Think funky, vintage wallpaper, Pachinko machines, and a free jukebox stocked with vinyl 45s.
As for the bones, local guitar legend Anders Thomsen, of Damon and the Shitkickers fame, is in charge of building the wood bar from scratch. Some of its taps will pour Savannah-brewed craft beer, such as Southbound and Service, while some will deliver ubiquitous standards, like Bud and Miller. Still others will serve up large house-made batches of Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and “whatever new concoctions we come up with,” aged in whiskey or port wine barrels for six weeks. More craft cocktails will be carbonated and bottled in-house. Three different kinds of distilled-water ice—including celebrated chewy ice—will complement the various drinks.
In the tradition of Hang Fire, there will be both a stage and DJ booth to pump Savannah’s music scene with world-class performances.
“El-Rocko was a bar I frequented on MLK Boulevard when I was 17,” Daniel explains. “They let my friend and me have two beers, and then we had to leave. So we ordered Old English because they were 24 ounces each.”
Raise your glass, Savannah. Here’s to making new memories in El-Rocko Lounge that—with luck and good behavior—you may even retain.
MEET THE OWNER
To live a festive life, you … must never be concerned with how short your swim trunks are. (I’m a Birdwells man.)
My philosophy can be summed up by … Dennis Hopper.
I love the smell of … gasoline.
The dish I can never say “no” to is … one I don’t have to wash beforehand.
It’s the zombie apocalypse and I’m hoarding … kids to throw in front of zombies as I make my cowardly escape.
My party playlist … is solely comprised of the first four Van Halen albums.
My guilty pleasure is … proclaiming “not guilty.”
The secret to presentation is … hanging out with a bunch of blind guys.
The theme song for my job should be … “The Price Is Right theme,” ‘cause it plays in my head constantly, whether I’m working or not.
My most creative ideas come when … “The Price Is Right” theme isn’t in the way—so, never.
I wish more Savannahians … would call themselves C-Portians.
I never leave home without … a lack of a plan.
I’m addicted to … painkillers—wait! Was I supposed to say something clever there?
I’d give my last $5 for … painkillers—wait!
The five people at my dream dinner party include … Roberto Duran, Hubert Selby Jr., Gibby Haynes, Catherine Deneuve and Peter Sellers.
When I arrive at the Pearly Gates, I hope St. Peter serves me … with papers, extraditing me to the raging Caligula soiree going on in Hell at that very moment.