The cavernous room is painted lime green on one side with exposed brick on the other and a black-and-white checkered floor. A stage sits in the back left corner with optimal views from the front wall of windows and a watchful black velvet Elvis painting.
Hanging light fixtures look modern but were re-purposed from a mental health treatment facility. An old-fashioned jukebox, with artists as varied as the Cramps, Slim Harpo, Paint Fumes and the Supremes, is near the front entrance while a pool table sits in back.
Co-owners Drew Schlegel, Michael Cipollone and Patty Conway, as well as bar manager Paul Kirk, are gathered inside the freshly remodeled and painted 100-year-old building. The group of musicians is hoping their new spot at 221 W. Brookland Park Blvd., the Fuzzy Cactus, will become your new favorite place to eat, drink and catch a show when it opens on Friday, Aug. 16.
Schlegel, an Austin, Texas, transplant with decades in the music industry, linked with Cipollone, former head booker for Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, about a year and a half ago. The idea was simple: a neighborhood place for locals to eat, drink and hear touring acts, which seemed needed especially after the loss of the beloved venue Strange Matter.
Their search started in Scott's Addition, but breweries rule there. They'd scouted the Brookland Park space before and found its massive square footage and high ceilings to be the perfect fit. Months later, with some re-tiling, fresh light fixtures and a bit of elbow grease on the conveyor belt left from when it was known as Crystal Cleaners and Laundry, they're now within sight of having their dreams actualized.
"There needed to be something like this in Richmond," Schlegel says, sipping a beverage on a warm Thursday evening. "Everyone here except for a few people are musicians or are in the scene."
But while music might be the heart of the Fuzzy Cactus, its business aims for sustainability, supporting the employees and bands or acts that grace its stage. That means employing musicians and being flexible, working with them when they have to leave to go on tour — something management says it wants to encourage.
But that also means fewer live shows to help support the food and bar.
"We want to have music on Fridays and Saturdays, but during the week it will have to be a good touring act or something," Cipollone says.
"If we're going to put a show on, people need to feel good about paying that cover and backing this place," Schlegel chimes in. "The band needs to get paid, we need to get paid to put it on. If we're just putting shows on to have shows, that won't work."
Conway, a drummer transplant who booked shows and ran venues in New York before moving to Richmond seven years ago, notes that a focus on the menu is where they hope to balance the music-to-food ratio. They're calling it urban-cowboy fare and promising fried chicken and Conway's secret biscuit recipes as the crux of the menu. Beans and rice, nachos and other not-quite-Tex-Mex options will be available, but no tacos or burritos.
The head chef, Sam Lappin Sr., was kitchen manager for Pies and Thighs, a southern restaurant in Brooklyn, for years. He's also a musician. The penchant for fried chicken and other options will play heavily as the Fuzzy Cactus opens for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Meanwhile, Kirk is pumped to keep those seeking to imbibe happy with a full cocktail menu alongside Busch cans.
"We want it to be elevated," says the former Rappahannock Restaurant bar manager. "We want to be able to offer anything under the sun, but it'll be a matter of time and place too. The menu will reflect the night." Prickly pear margaritas, vermouth on tap and an exceedingly tasty Manhattan are sure to shine when you make your inaugural trip.
What's in store for 221 W. Brookland Park Blvd.? Only time will tell, but with the wealth of high-end dining and boutique breweries sweeping through town, perhaps the Fuzzy Cactus will offer an option for Richmond scene folks who just want a reasonable bite to eat, a cool drink and great live music providing a soundtrack to it all.