CONVIVIAL J.R. at his new spot.
John “J.R.” Richard realized the dream of many a nightlife veteran with the opening last week of his stylish new lounge on Providence’s West Side, the Avery — which he hopes will be a prototypical “third place,” where people gather to pleasantly socialize and to share ideas.
The impressive original design of the place, dimly lit, heavy on blonde wood, and highlighted by two behind-the-bar ornamental female beauties set against the Providence skyline, will be vaguely familiar to patrons of Mike Sears’s Lili Marlene’s and Loie Fuller’s. Sears, a partner in the new venture, helped to conceive it with the talented design team of Kyla Coburn and Andy Trench.
The bar’s name comes from the spot’s location in the Avery Pettis House, off Broadway, in Luongo Square.
The previous occupant of the space, the Decatur Lounge — which functioned as a community center and popular hipster-neighborhood bar melting pot — closed in March 2007 after a dispute between bar operator Joann Seddon and landlord Jon Ozbek. Seddon’s original partner, Tim Dannenfelser, then set up shop around the corner, at the E & O Tap on Knight Street.
Richard, understandably, wants to make his own mark, and he says he’ll leave it to three individuals involved in the Decatur’s demise to explain what happened. “Let the Decatur rest in peace,” he says. (Seddon didn’t return a call seeking comment; lingering sadness about the situation can be seen in the presence of a “Decatur Lounge Withdrawal Support Group” on myspace.com.)
“Trying to do something remotely similar to that, business-wise, would have been a big mistake,” Richard says. That could help to explain why the bar top is on the other end of the room from where it used to be.
Since the Avery opened for business on April 14, “it’s been great,” the managing proprietor says, with a lot of people coming through from the neighborhood and some who were familiar with the location, which had functioned, pre-Decatur, as a social club for many years.
A genial military brat who grew up in Providence and went to URI, Richard, 45, broke into nightlife about 15 years ago, with a short-lived bouncing stint, when the second incarnation of Lupo’s opened in the Peerless Building.
Bartending proved a better fit, and he went on to do that at J.G. Goff’s, Amsterdam’s, Club Babyhead, Jerky’s, Jake’s, and the Decatur, in its first six months. Richard gave up his last ”professional job,” as the director of governmental relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society, about three years ago, and he worked his final Lupo’s gig last week.
In a reflection of the high-low identity that the Avery seeks to cultivate, Richard rightly calls it a place whose original design is distinct from the priciest places in town and yet where you can nonetheless get a can of Narragansett for $2.