Nothing adds to a dive bar experience like a dusty, 1980s-era VHS.
Nostalgia is in the eye of aging beholder, a fact never more true than in a dive bar where a dusty, old joint could mean a Prohibition-era relic to some and a quaint neighborhood pub with a VCR behind the bar to others. Reed’s Local scratches the itch for those that see stacks of VHS boxes and feel like they’ve been transported back to childhood, an Avondale outpost that pairs a deep classic movies game with a rotating set of events that converts the Reed’s Local space into an almost daily community-driven showcase.
Though published details are sparse, it can be said with certainty that the space occupied today by Reed’s Local was once Wally’s Lounge, a bare bones dive bar owned by, you guessed it, a character named Wally. By all indications, Wally’s Lounge faded a bit towards the end of its run before a revival by the Reed’s Local owners, but the legacy is a potent one, Wally’s Lounge famous for serving bottled beer and hard liquor without ice and without mixers. Owner Joel Hill purchased the space and revived the drinking within, opening Reed’s Local in 2014, using his father as namesake.
Imagery of the original Wally’s Lounge shows as basic a storefront as possible, a space so stark that discerning whether a bar was inside or not probably required actually trying the door handle. Today, Reed’s Local sports a fresh awning, a bit of work to the exterior of the building and even a dog-themed painting out front inscribed with “Be Nice!” The Wally’s Lounge sticker has been scratched off of the trim around the bar’s lone exterior window, a very dive bar-friendly way to honor the prior tenant. And if there was any doubt as to the presence of a bar within, a large Hamm’s mural dominates one of the building’s brick walls reading, “Hello, and have a Hamm’s!”
Walking inside feels like walking into the best parts of Wally’s Lounge with the kinds of renovations and improvements that only accentuate the space rather than cover it up. Wood paneling stretches behind the bar the runs along the left wall of the front room, wood shelving propping up an old Schlitz globe light and more than one (perhaps defunct) lava lamp. Framed photos behind the bar mix with the lineup of available beers, the occasional bumper sticker or beer sign at times making an appearance. All of it combines to make a very dive bar-friendly look despite the 2014 opening date. The balance struck here is maybe best demonstrated through fresh copper mugs for mule-like drinks one shelf below two vintage Schlitz serving trays.
The bar counter is capped off by a TV and honest to goodness VCR at one end that features a rotating set of classic, sometimes slightly obscure movies (Scream 2 was playing during my visit, inserted just after the conclusion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The front room is well populated with wall art that mixes old staples like neon beer signs with fresh paintings depicting more contemporary subjects like Jack White. A few games fill the space in this front room among a handful of hightop tables, pinball in one corner and the very dive-bar-underrated bubble hockey in the middle of the room.
Heading up a few stairs enters into a back room that includes some additional seating as well as the Reed’s Local stage where a wide variety of events take place, from karaoke nights to burlesque shows. Live music is a regular occurrence at Reed’s Local with varied genres represented, even giving way at times to live comedy. The wide array of events held at Reed’s Local cements its place as a hub for the community and Avondale neighborhood at large rather than a subset or specific interest. Having that kind of variety is a boost for the Avondale area, all of it capped off in a very dive bar fashion with a staple $4 shot and beer combo, in this case Hamm’s and Old Crow.
Building off of a dive bar legacy like Wally’s Lounge can be a difficult factor to balance with the need to liven up what was a very bare bones experience. Reed’s Local has done a great job of doing that, refreshing the space without replacing it, using a few updates here and there to bring new energy to the building while preserving the warm, dive bar features that make it feel organic to the community around it. Nostalgia is, in this case, a combined view of Reed’s Local as tribute to dive bar past with a dash of VHS-fueled 1980s pop culture to create something new and still familiar.