PORTLAND, Maine — When The Big Easy closed in the fall of 2013, the music didn’t die. Ken Bell, owner of the live music room on Market Street where Spose and The Mallett Brothers Band played, simply pressed pause. And now, he’s ready to hit play again.
A lease dispute with his landlord closed The Big Easy club. However, Bell of Portland hasn’t stopped searching for another space.
While strolling downtown with his wife last summer, Bell, 38, came across a vacant retail space at the corner of Temple and Federal streets in the heart of the city.
With wrap-around windows and a large street-level presence, “I knew it would be perfect,” he said.
Last occupied by Minott’s Flowers, the 3,500-square-foot storefront opens May 25th as Portland House of Music and Events (HOME).
“The musicians used to call The Big Easy ‘home,” said Bell, who delves back into the city’s music scene with partner Jamie Isaacson, producer of the North Atlantic Blues Festival. “Hopefully this turns into a home again.”
The 300-capacity venue comes with parking. There is a garage over the club, which works in Bell’s favor.
“We want to reach a broad demographic, 21 to 81 year olds, and feature a variety of music — all genres — keep it very diverse,” said Bell.
There will be ample seating on three levels, pews formerly used at St. Patrick’s Church in Lewiston lining the walls, and a mezzanine for a musician’s greenroom. To Bell, the medium-sized room fills a void between Empire Chinese Kitchen and Port City Music Hall.
“The music scene in Portland has always been quite strong. It had peaks and valleys. When The Big Easy came to an end, it had a little bit of a lull. Hopefully we can bring that back,” said the Mechanic Falls native.
But don’t call it a rock club.
“The Big Easy was a successful business, so I will not venture too far. We are open to all genres. There will be soul, jazz and blues Saturdays. I really want to make this place a comfortable atmosphere with lounge nights, where there is no cover and a happy hour,” said Bell.
Though primarily a music venue, HOME will be open for deli-style lunches and light appetizers and cocktails at night. Most of his staff will be returning, and Bell has already started to book acts for June.
While Portland’s nightlife scene is picking up, it’s still short on venues for local musicians to perform. This is a welcome note.
“The State Theatre and Port City do a fantastic job of bringing in national and regional acts,” said Bell. “I really want to focus on the local and showcase what Maine has to offer.”
And a place to work off all the foie gras between restaurant forays is a savory addition to Maine’s culinary capital.
“We are known as a food town, but we are also a music town, and I think we can remind people about that,” said Bell, who is building a bar and an elevated stage and plans to open an outdoor patio. “I am really excited to be working with musicians again and get the doors open.”
Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., opens in late May.