Future of historic Grant's uncertain

The future of historic Grant’s Lounge on Poplar Street in downtown Macon is up in the air after a shooting that occurred behind the lounge in early September left five people wounded.

Gene Dunwody Sr., the landlord of the property, which has been the home of Grant’s Lounge since its opening in 1971, announced plans on Sept. 10 to close Grant’s at the end of the month. Grant’s recently celebrated its forty-third anniversary and played a major role in the music renaissance in Macon in the 1970s, which saw the rise of legendary local artists such as The Allman Brothers Band and Little Richard.

After the shooting, which occurred behind Grant’s two hours past closing time, many community members and business owners downtown pushed for the closing of the historic building.

“It’s a shame to blame the bar,” said Grant’s head bartender Brandon Meyers, known affectionately by patrons simply as Nomad. “The shooter was never in Grant’s. Our patrons were the victims, not the perpetrator,” he added.

Grant’s has long been a central figure in the music scene of Macon, playing host to up-and-comers over the years who went on to garner national and international acclaim. The illustrious Grant’s Lounge Wall of Fame boasts pictures of a wide array of musicians who played there, a list that includes artists Tom Petty, Boz Scaggs, Little Richard and Wet Willie. Grant’s was the original stomping grounds of the Allman Brothers, and it was the place where Phil Walden discovered artists he would later sign to Capricorn Records.

On Wednesday, Sept. 17, Grant’s Lounge hosted one of their final open mic jam sessions, and the stage was crowded with legendary musicians who gathered to celebrate the legacy of the Macon bar. The event was hosted by The Marshall Tucker Band guitarist Chris Hicks, who lent his playing to a number of other acts over the course of the night.

Blues guitarist Robert Lee Coleman was also in attendance and wowed the audience with breathtaking improvised guitar solos. Coleman, who played guitar for Percy Sledge and James Brown in the 1960s and ’70s, is a Macon native.

It was a historic night imbued with an acute feeling of inevitability, a legendary monument packed to the brim to celebrate a chapter in Macon’s history that may soon come to a close. For those who have spent time in Grant’s, it is more than a bar. “It’s a living museum,” said Meyers. “You can go every night and be part of history. To lose that would be devastating.”

Grant’s was opened by Edward Grant Sr. in 1971. Grant was a well-liked bartender at the local Idle Hour Country Club who found that he had a knack for business while managing James Brown’s Gold Platter restaurant. “All these affluent people he once served at the country club started coming out to this bar which was owned by a black man. This was before Macon’s integration, and that set the tone for what Grant’s would become,” Meyers noted.

“It’s the only place in Macon where the divide dissolves. A 50 year-old hotel maid ends up having a drink with a college student, and they share two hours of their lives together. A country fiddler and two hip-hop artists share a stage and freestyle. People forget their differences.”

Meyers smiles as he recalls these stories, but the impact of Grant’s goes far beyond the storied nights, he says. “Even when nothing significant happens, it’s a place where people from completely different walks of life can gather and tell stories and learn about their neighbor. That community, that’s the real story of Grant’s.”

At the conclusion of the jam session on Wednesday night, Edward Grant Jr. took the stage. “Grant’s will not go away. We will be back because Grant’s isn’t ours. Grant’s belongs to you guys,” he announced to a roar of applause.

As he thanked the crowd, many longtime patrons of Grant’s conjured up the image of his father and his famous words at the end of each night: “Thank you for a great night, folks. Now go out there and remember to be kind to each other.”

The lights dimmed, the crowd spilled out and the streets buzzed with what felt like history.