Parlour: San Marco’s Perfect Cocktail of Measure and Music

A city’s music scene is often defined by the vitality of that art found in its districts or neighborhoods. Over the past few years Jacksonville’s districts have begun to show a pulse. Downtown has The Elbow, which has breathed life into an after-dark scene that for years looked like the set for Night of the Living Dead. Now one can hear a contiguous flow of music from a collection of clubs offering a rich diversity of sounds. The city’s ersatz Avant-Garde district, Five Points – conspicuously silent since Underbelly fled for The Elbow two years ago – now features Rain Dogs, which played host to the indigenous Mighty Oak Festival this past August.

San Marco, Downtown’s trendy neighbor, has always offered music, primarily at Buddha Lounge (formerly Square One) which now features DJs. But lately something musically organic and essential has happened in the room known as the Parlour, a 1920s-style speakeasy that adjoins the back of the Grape and Grain Exchange located at 2000 San Marco Blvd.

Proprietors Bob Smith and Jackson Somphonphakdy (who also own the Grape and Grain Exchange) have created a very smart, cool music venue and in doing so have answered the eternal dilemma – what comes first, the music or the customers? At Parlour it is the customers who are drawn throughout the week to the unique speakeasy décor, craft beer and tasty creative cocktails. With that constant flow, Somphonphakdy, and his music director, Eric Saple, have begun to curate the city’s emerging creative music scene by offering them two essentials – money and an audience.

“We love music,” says Somphonphakdy, a graduate of Douglas Anderson who specializes in stage design and was responsible for the Parlour’s period pieces such as the long classic bar and velvet curtains. He says he and Smith saw an opportunity to create a unique concept by opening Grape and Grain Exchange in 2012 as there was no retail liquor outlet within three miles of San Marco.

Somphonphakdy recounts that when Parlour was added a few months later, they envisioned it being a jazz/blues venue. Indeed, Parlour’s early reputation as a hip music venue earned it a visit from multiple Grammy Award winner and jazz great Wynton Marsalis, who selected the venue to perform with Marcus Roberts for a CBS “60 Minutes” feature on the native piano virtuoso.

Since that time, Somphonphakdy says he saw an expanding platform to perform music at the venue and appeal to a wider demographic. He engaged the services of Saple, who adroitly draws from a cross-section of Jacksonville’s fertile music scene. From Wednesday to Sunday, Parlour presents the best of the city’s genres including blues, jazz, bebop, world music, classic country, blue-grass, native Florida, and singer-songwriter.

Despite having to work within the restraints of a small stage and a decibel level that doesn’t prohibit the convivial nature of the bar, Saple has managed to curate a program of first-rate musical acts.

“We didn’t want our music to become stagnant,” Saple points out. “We wanted to reach out of the box and introduce new acts that reflect the diverse talent in Jacksonville.”

For many talented local musical acts that had been consigned to playing coffee houses for tips, Parlour’s stage and healthy performance fees provide a chance to gain a savvy listing audience and be compensated fairly. As one singer/songwriter says, “The Parlour is a harbinger that the Jacksonville music scene is maturing. They deserve many kudos.”

Parlour still offers an open jazz session on the first Friday of each month, but the weekend features the city’s showcase acts.

Somphonphakdy believes the club is forming a solid relationship with the customers they serve by serving craft beer, creative cocktails and now, arguably the best mix of music in the city.

Parlour, Grape and Grain Exchange, 2000 San Marco Blvd, 396-4455, grapeandgrainexchange.com/parlour.

Article writen by Mike Bernos

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