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The Sinclair – Downtown’s New Scene (no tight jeans or haircuts required)

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Reclaiming Capitalism – The Upton Sinclair Socialist Reading Room by Jon Bosworth

According to Brennan Hamill, owner of The Sinclair, in 1906 the structure at 521 W Forsyth Street was a slaughterhouse and had been for almost a year. That same year, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle. Arguably an inspiration for the entire “creative nonfiction” genre, the fictional novel acted as a sort of expose` presenting the inhumane practices of the meat industry, from immigrant labor forced to work in slave-like conditions for almost no pay to the corruption that infected American communities in the early 20th century.

Sinclair had difficulty getting the book published, but when Doubleday finally did it was an instant success and has since come to be known as a social and literary masterpiece. The literary irony of a place’s name is not exactly something you think about when picking the bar you want to go to on a Saturday night, but The Sinclair is just that sort of place; it’s a literary irony sort of bar.

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I recently responded to one of those cheap, tedious, time-wasting Facebook surveys about favorite places to read, and I have to imagine that my responses were unusual; my favorite places to read are on a city bus and in bars. Try going into most bars and sitting in a corner with a book, and you’ll get an array of strange looks and even some marveling drunks who will approach you like a strange but harmless creature that they just can’t understand.

It’s hard to find a good reading bar in Jacksonville. When you enter The Sinclair, portraits of Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, and Upton himself grace the walls. In fact, Hamill’s original full name for the bar was going to be the Upton Sinclair Socialist Reading Room (The USSR Room), and indeed he hopes it will foster a similar community to the socialist activist communities Upton Sinclair was a part of in the early 20th century. I found my reading bar.

This location has gone through many transformations since its slaughterhouse days. Your grandfather might remember it as a brothel, but you probably visited it as The Voodoo Lounge back in the early 2000s. The classic walnut wood-trimmed bar only has occupancy for 80 people and that is precisely what Hamill wants.

“When a place is this small, 20 people can come out for a show and it feels like a good night. 50 people could come out and it feels sold out.”

You may know Brennan Hamill from such local hits as the bands Lackawanna Carriage Works and (formerly) Dang!, or you may know him from when he was booking Yesterday’s, Avondale’s rather redneck bar (which Hamill almost turned into the CBGBs of Jax, except the forces of redneck were too strong to be opposed and too drunk to be reasoned with), or you may have simply seen a large redheaded man with a posh red beard driving a bitchin’ 70s red camaro around Riverside and downtown. On the other hand, you may not know him at all.

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I recently heard him described as “austere” (of a stern or strict bearing or demeanor), which isn’t altogether fair. He’s funny, but he does take his ideas very seriously. And anyone that visits The Sinclair will be glad for that, because taking a building that has hosted everything from the slaughtering of animals to rival gang knife-fights over the past 100 years and turning it into a venue welcoming musical theater and alt country bands takes a firm hand at the rudder.

Although the beer and wine bar is already open for business Thursday through Sunday nights, his grand opening is planned for August and that is when we will start to see local bands taking the stage. The opening night will feature local alt country acts Pine and Bone and Hamill’s own band Lackawanna Carriage Works.

After that kickoff Hamill assures visitors that the live bands he puts on stage will be the best original music that Jacksonville has to offer. He won’t overstuff shows or pair opposite bands with one another, shows at The Sinclair will be carefully constructed quality events sure to please locals looking for a discriminating venue.

Hamill’s intellectually ironic bar will also be a haven for neo-socialists and a business that is always more interested in art and music than in turning an enormous profit. That doesn’t mean he intends to be one of the many downtown spots that throw bad art onto the walls to be a part of Art Walk (although he intends to be open for Art Walks), but rather he hopes to bring new dynamics of art to the Jacksonville social scene, including live theater, radio dramas, on-stage talk shows, and any ideas that he thinks fit the vibe. His primary goal is to support the art community, the entire art community – not just painters and musicians – and provide a venue where creative people can find an audience for their work.

Come to The Sinclair now to enjoy eclectic DJs playing music that you’ve never heard, but will want to hear again. From Nancy Sinatra to Velvet Underground to Belle & Sebastian, you’re likely to hear new favorites by groups and from eras you thought you had already mastered. Then look to August for The New Art to take the stage. When you check The Sinclair out for yourself, bring a good book and order a Lillet on the rocks. Tell the bartender Urban Jax sent you.

For more information you can check out Joey Marchy’s post on The Sinclair – Jacksonville’s Downtown Drink House

The Upside of a Downturn: How I Learned to Love a Bad Economy

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credit: flash5
photo credit: flash5

This post was written by contributer Jon Bosworth

I’m old enough now to admit there is a shitload of stuff I don’t know. There were a good number of years where I was so certain about everything. Not just the teenage years; I was sure straight through my twenties that I knew what was happening in the world. Everyone else was a moron. But while listening to NPR this morning, I heard a high school student in Portland, Oregon explain the affect of credit default swap systems on our global economy in a way that made me understand a fundamental truth about our capitalist system that I had never understood before. Free market means there are no rules. Free market means you can rip people off as long as you adjust the wording to keep anyone from paying attention to what you do. Money comes to those who market well. It isn’t about product; it’s about language.

Then it happened to me again. My twelve year-old daughter had arranged to babysit a friend’s child while that friend and my wife went out for drinks up the street. My daughter’s best friend also ended up being there while she babysat. As good girls do, they both helped watch the younger child. When everyone was back home, the parent of the watched child tried to pay my daughter, who she had the agreement with, and then all of the parents started getting involved. They started talking about hurt feelings and shared responsibility. It became a big issue among friends.

As I was walking with my daughter later that evening, I asked her if she thought the babysitting money should be split up. She explained that her friend had been a big help and she had planned to give her friend half of the money regardless of the entire parental panic.

Sometimes things that seem like a big deal that we need to do something about (and the national financial crisis is definitely something I support doing something about), can actually have an organic effect that is beneficial. Sometimes natural selection happens on the positive side too. Human cognition can create an environment that has a palpable impact on the whole of globalized society. That’s a heady concept.

So tonight, as I walked through our neighborhood with my daughter, I thought for a minute about how I wanted to be at Burrito Gallery downtown having drinks with my friends. I thought about how I wished I could go see Hip Hop Experience at Café 331. But the fact is: I didn’t have the money for a night on the town. I could afford to walk down our neighborhood street with my firstborn. And then she taught me about economics. If no one tried to rip anyone off, if fair was fair among individuals, our economy would be solid. Like the bank in Spain. Instead of trying to buy and sell the “market,” whatever that is, they ran a bank.

But on top of that, I started to listen to our neighborhood as we walked. We live in Avondale, and the people that live in our neighborhood are young, reasonably affluent, and like to do things. Many of them are young couples with kids, but they hire babysitters and attend local plays, the symphony, local country bands’ shows, art openings, all sorts of things. But tonight, as we walked through the neighborhood, it seemed as though everyone was home. There were people drinking beers on their front porch. I heard people playing saxophone and trumpet on a back porch on the next street over. Our neighbors were laughing and talking and discussing the economy. We are all broke. None of us can afford to go out, but suddenly our streets are alive with the sounds of the interesting people I live around.

I can’t help but wonder, could this economic crisis force me away from my Facebook long enough to really get to know people? Could I make real, flesh-and-blood friends, rather than just virtual ones?

As we walked the rest of the way through that incredible October night to the front door of our house, I realized how lucky I am. How lucky I am that Wall Street has collapsed and the world is in economic turmoil. How lucky I am that my natural affinity for consumerism was curbed by the fallacy of greed through every party and politician. Because suddenly I know what it means to be an American. It means we can get out of our homes and not be afraid of the person next door. They may vote for McCain, but they make a great dirty martini.

I guess the wisdom is: when the things we think are the most important in the world are destroyed, when we “hit bottom,” we are finally allowed to see people for the people we are and we can realize that systems only pull us apart. It takes humans to stand upright, asses who we are, and then do something to make the two work together.

There may be a lot of things I don’t know, but some things are pretty intuitive. It’s obvious to me that the more we Americans get to liking each other, the better this country will be. So I give a big shout out to my Obama brothers and sisters, and I am wicked stoked that my McCain folk are out there. As usual, I apologize to those good folks in the third party category. But no matter what happens in November, I will be glad to play some kickball with you all come a broke ass 2009.

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Polo Is My Life – Bury Your Bike Festival

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All Photos courtesy of JaxScene. Also this is the first post by contributor Jon Bosworth.

While many hood rats were sleeping off their hangovers from First Friday in Five Points, the dead were rising in Springfield. You may have spotted some of them, walking… or rather riding among the living at First Friday because Friday was day one of the free Bury Your Bike Festival.

A subculture is rising in Springfield. Even after the sad departure of Inertia Records (don’t worry, Royal Treatment Records is selling Days of War Nights of Love on their behalf), the ironic fashions and deeply held ideals thrive on. Replacing Inertia Records is Zombie Bikes, a bicycle collective and a bike shop that welcomes you to come to customize your ride among fellow enthusiasts.

We are just adamant bikers that wanted a bike shop that we’d like going to said Zombie Bikes’ founder Devin Wolf. 

This most recent tenant puts the building at 1520 N Main Street at capacity, since only a few weeks ago Burro Bags also opened their shop inside of the space. What was once being tentatively referred to as Buyers Market Lodge is truly living up to that name. But rather than being a traditional commerce center, it is more like a community center where recycled materials are being made into useful luggage, old records are being re-sold to new fans, and old bike parts are being brought back from the dead and returned to the street.

I spoke with Devin Wolf while he was busy welding two children’s bikes into one medium-tall bike. I presume he was doing this so that this bike could enter the tall bike race that would happen tomorrow. According to Wolf he was one of the people responsible for the tall bike movement in St. Augustine and now we can expect them to be invading the streets of Jacksonville.

The tall bike trend has arrived, Wolf proclaims. We’re definitely gonna make an impact on the community. 

I didn’t catch the tall bike race, but I did get to watch some of the bike polo tournament on Saturday. It was brutal. From seeing shirtless dudes fly over the front of their bike as their wheel jackknifed to seeing an ambitious player fly wildly into the a busy mid-day Main Street, it was nerve racking, but the players seemed to be capable of striking the small rubber ball with their oddly long mallets without striking one another. Bystanders had lawn chairs and beers. It was like tailgating but with more tattoos and an uncommon sense of community.

Following the bike polo was a Zombie hunt, wherein painted tires were hidden all over the city and participants raced around trying to collect the most. Other activities included a bike build-off at Wild Bill’s (a rather surly bar near the stadium) a bike toss and a dirt jump.

Zombie Bikes has a workshop with pipe cutters, welding equipment, tools and plenty of spare parts. Zombie has the sort of vibe that makes a welcoming place to hang. There are couches and a television and plenty of workspace. Resurrect your bike at Zombie Bikes. Go to zombiebikes.com to learn more.

As for Burro Bags, they’ve only been open for a few weeks but they are already managing to crank out a substantial collection of custom luggage. Spend as little as $40 for a small bag or get a $200 large custom bag. In addition to courier satchels and smaller bags, they also make bags from recycled vinyl fast food promotional banners and other reclaimed materials. They hope to soon introduce wallets. Check out burrobags.blogspot.com.

Burro owners Chris Williams and Matt Bort live in the same house as some of the Zombie Bike guys, so being neighboring businesses has just become an extension of their home and the partnership is flowering into something much more significant. It is just another evolution as Springfield grows its own distinct personality and brings Jacksonville another step closer to being the kind of community that can sustain a variety of interests, the way a big city should.

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Bike Jax’s Bury Your Bike pics
JaxScene’s Bury Your Bike pics

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