For nearly 20 years, the Northside Bar and Grille had a reputation for being one of the longest standing blues bars in Akron. But for some, it was much more than that. It was a cool, dimly lit place where members of local bands could commiserate, where the people danced on wooden tables and booths etched with graffiti, and a broken jukebox sat in the corner, never played.
It was also a place that fell behind as the neighborhood continued to grow when Northside Lofts and DBA moved in. After Jill Bacon Madden, the former entertainment and marketing manager for Northside Bar and Grille, purchased the property in 2012, she decided to make a change.
"The interior of the space was broken down, dilapidated," says Madden, who opened Jilly's Music Room in the spot in November.
Madden installed midnight blue velvet booths, replaced the concrete floor with dark hardwood and added a new sound system. The fresh venue also boasts a gourmet tapas menu and LED chandeliers that give it a chic, modern vibe where visitors can watch bands play free of charge.
"She's taken something that was underground and gave it a nice venue," says Jen Maurer, lead singer of the Akron-based zydeco-jam band Mo' Mojo. Known for its monthly gig at Northside Bar and Grille, Mo' Mojo performed to a full house its first night in the new space. "I never played for a crowd that big in a bar, and the energy was really kicked up," she says.
By seeking out bands from throughout the world to perform original work in genres ranging from Americana to blues, Madden is creating a well-rounded concert club that maintains the old soul of Northside Bar and Grille.
"It's important to have a place where people are creating their own work," says Madden. "There's nothing like music to bring people together and make people feel good."