After years as the infamously seedy In-Between, the Akron bar has reinvented itself as Vodka (812 West Market Street). The cozy club hopes to tap a clientele that reflects its neighbors, the punk-friendly Annabell's, upscale gay bar Babylon, and the surrounding executives who live in the neighborhood's big houses.
"I think Highland Square has a different feel now," says new manager Joumana Herro. "It's not all a beer-and-shot crowd. It's very eclectic here."
Herro, who grew up working at her parents' restaurants -- including Cannova's, the renowned Summit Lake chili stronghold -- has service in her blood. She took over the tavern, then gutted it late last year. Dimly lit by white Christmas lights and candles, Vodka feels like a hybrid of a casual new-school lounge and a local bar, with a sound that leans toward the latter. While regulars play pool in the back on a recent Tuesday night, the crowd at the bar takes turns lining up the jukebox with Dean Martin, Steely Dan, Smashing Pumpkins, and Joe Walsh.
"The jukebox is a top priority," says Gerard Dominick, a marketing representative for the bar. "We're trying to fill it with a lot of locals and up-to-date obscure music -- bands you don't hear on the radio every 10 minutes."
Vodka, named for its 20 varieties of the drink, is also slated to host regular stripped-down sets by local musicians like Colin John, who will perform in an alcove by the bar's front window.
"I remember going places, and every day they had something neat going on," says Herro, who hopes that Vodka will continue to reflect the neighborhood as it reestablishes itself as a retail zone. "I want to do something like that. We want this to be a fun place, where everybody can come in and feel welcome."
· Ripper Watch: Former Judas Priest singer and current Iced Earth frontman Tim "Ripper" Owens has recorded a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" with Michael Schenker, laying down vocals over the instrumental track at Billy Morris's Lava Room Recording studios. The song will be a part of producer Bob Kulick's all-star Sabbath tribute, due later this year. In the meantime, Owens is still working on original material that he describes as "heavy" with 13 Faces guitarist John Comprix, and he recently cut a short demo of Sabbath/Priest-influenced songs with members of cover band the Sickness. His website, www.timripperowens.com, will go live soon.
· Former Spudmonsters/Run Devil Run singer Don Foose has a new band, Sons of War. The group just recorded a four-song demo with Mushroomhead's Steve "Skinny" Felton, who says, "It's kind of like Clutch: heavy, driving, and jamming. It's good and dirty."
· Cleveland jam band Moon the Giant's fourth annual New Year's Eve bash at the Grog Shop was the band's last show. "We just got worn down by the Cleveland machine," says singer Jake Fader. "There's no unified scene. But we had some great times here, and some out of town as well. It was the kind of thing where people had to move on."
The band regularly ventured to Columbus, and it played a side stage at 2003's Farm Aid. That was also the year of the band's lone album, A Modicum of Abundance. Fader is wrapping work on a posthumous LP, For Other People, which is slated for a spring release. Fader and Moon bassist Corbett Helm will continue working together in the electronic-Afrobeat-influenced Mifune (pronounced "miff-YOU-nay").
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