The first time that I ever set foot in Thursday’s Lounge in Akron was back in 1993.
I was 21 and I was not wearing motorcycle attire.
It didn’t make much of an impression on me one way or the other. It would be almost seven years before I walked through that door again.
I frequented a lot of other bars in 1993. Most of them were in Kent or Cleveland. I had just turned 21, and was at that stage of life when you spend a lot of time going out to bars in other cities with friends, because the places that are not in your hometown are seen as cooler and more interesting than the places that are. I spent a lot of time up in Cleveland in the Flats that year, during what was undoubtedly its heyday. I had fun that summer. I drank a lot. I danced a lot. I rode the Holy Moses Water Taxi across the Cuyahoga River a lot. But I didn’t develop any affection for any of those places. I went up there mostly because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do at that age.
Growing up, I had always liked Akron. I was not one of those people who reflexively hated it, simply because it was cold, or old, or run down, or maybe simply because it was home; who saw moving away as some sort of indication of success and staying put as a badge of failure. But, nevertheless, when I moved to North Carolina for graduate school, I assumed that I would get a job in some other city that was not in the Rust Belt, and that I would probably never move back.
I changed a lot during those two years that I was in graduate school. I didn’t spend much time in bars. I spent a lot of time studying. I made lots of friends from all over the country, and learned a lot from talking to them. Living in the Sunbelt gave me a fresh perspective on Akron and on the Rust Belt, and, somewhat unexpectedly, I went from liking Akron to absolutely loving it. I missed the old buildings, the old neighborhoods, and the gritty streetscapes and businesses that didn’t look and feel like everyplace else. I didn’t see a lot that reminded me of Akron or of the Rust Belt in shiny, new, sanitized, and thoroughly-suburbanized Charlotte.
Growing up in Akron, I was used to people talking about how much they hated it and how much they couldn’t wait to leave. In Charlotte, people couldn’t stop talking about how great it was. It was unthinkable to imagine a native saying that they hated living there. To someone who was born and raised in the buckle of the Rust Belt, where the negativity about the place could be as thick as the grey clouds that envelop Lake Erie and vicinity for months at a time, the starry-eyed boosterism was jarring and difficult to get used to. Charlotte was a nice and quite prosperous city, but when I looked around me, I saw all sorts of tangible ways that I thought Akron was better. I resolved to move back home once I graduated.
My taste in music had been changing, as well. In high school and college I was a devoted fan of hard rock and heavy metal. I grew my hair long, played guitar and later bass (both quite unremarkably) in a few small bands with one of my best friends. As time went by, I developed a real passion for music in general, and expanded my horizons beyond the relatively narrow spectrum of heavy rock bands that I had been listening to up to that point. I discovered fairly under-the-radar (at the time) bands like Pixies and Joy Division; began delving into electronica (Aphex Twin, Autechre, Orbital); trip-hop (Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky); and developed a newfound love for bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths, that I had grown up with in high school, but had never really gotten into.
I moved back to Akron and got a job as an urban planner, with a fresh appreciation for the city that I had lived my entire life in, had always been fond of, but had largely taken for granted. It was almost like living here for the first time. I made it a point to explore the neighborhoods that I had never spent much time in, and to start going to local bars and restaurants that I had overlooked or neglected.
Which brings me to the second time that I ever set foot in Thursday’s…
I will never forget that night. We got there around 10:30. There was hardly anyone in there. We grabbed a few drinks, and sat down at one of the few places that there were to sit in that bar. Around 11:00 p.m. more people began filtering in. The music, which had been playing relatively quietly in the background, cranked up as people began to get on the dance floor. At first there was just one person dancing alone, with a complete and utter lack of self-consciousness. Then there were two more. By midnight, the place was absolutely transformed. A thick cloud of cigarette smoke enveloped the people who now filled every square inch of the dance floor. Most of them were dancing by themselves, moving through the blue haze that filtered through the flashing lights, with that same lack of self-consciousness.
Music thundered from the speakers, as the DJ spun one amazing song after the other: Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, Pixies, New Order, Blur, Bjork, The Cure, Pulp, Belle and Sebastian, Tahiti 80, Cornershop, Modest Mouse, The Sugarcubes, The Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Ministry, The Stone Roses, The Dandy Warhols, Lords of Acid, Siouxsie and the Banshees…
I had never been to a place that played so much great music. And, even more incredibly, I had never been to a dance club that seemed so unlike a dance club. Few people seemed the least bit concerned with preening, posing, picking someone up, or being cool - at least not in the conventional sense of that word. Hardly anyone danced with anyone else. People danced like their life depended on it, to songs that didn’t, at first blush, even seem all that danceable. As an already grizzled veteran of the 1990s dance club culture, I had seen a lot of people dancing to Digital Underground and C+C Music Factory. I hadn’t seen a lot of people dancing to Belle and Sebastian.
The room was split about equally between people wearing goth/darkwave/industrial/punk attire of one sort or another (one of my wife’s friends used to call them “the Pretty in Pink kids”) and those dressed in fairly unassuming indie rock/hipster garb; along with a small handful of normies that just looked like they were out for a night of drinking at a run-of-the-mill bar.
That night was the first time that I really went to Thursday’s. By the end of the evening, I knew that I had found the place that I belonged. I went back, and back, and back; nearly every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, mostly without fail, over the course of an entire decade. I missed blocks of time here and there - a new girlfriend; a busy time at work; but, overall, my conservative estimate is that I walked through that door at least 600 times.
I was no longer 21, and I was still not wearing motorcycle attire.
The drinks were cheap and were the strongest in Akron. I rarely drank anything there other than gin and tonics. They were $4.00 for well gin, and $5.00 for Bombay Sapphire. The ratio of gin to tonic water was around 4:1. I probably drank at least 1,500 of them over a ten-year period.
But the drinks were somewhat incidental. There are other places in Akron that you can get fairly cheap, fairly strong drinks. What really made Thursday’s Thursday’s, and made it, without a doubt in my mind, the best bar that Akron will ever see in my lifetime, was the people, that dance floor, and the people on the dance floor.
The magic of Thursday’s for me came down to two paradoxical things, and both of them revolved around that dance floor.
The first thing was that every single night was always different, and every single night was always exactly the same. Walking through that door each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday was the eternal return - ever changing, ever the same. Each night was a different combination of the same people, doing the same dances, at the same spots on the dance floor, to the same songs, drinking the same drinks, and smoking the same cigarettes, and it was the most comforting and familiar thing in the world. I am not exaggerating when I say that I found it profoundly beautiful.
The second thing was that you could be out among hundreds of people and still be alone. A lot of people, myself included, frequently went there alone. Sometimes you would run into friends, and sometimes you wouldn’t. Sometimes you would strike up a conversation with someone new over a cigarette or a drink, and sometimes you wouldn’t. But what you could be sure of, if you went alone, was that as you were out among the dozens of people on that dance floor; nearly all of whom had the same reverence for that music, that bar, and that dance floor; you would feel a profound sense of solidarity, and perhaps even communion, with them; and yet be totally and utterly alone at the same time. That, too, was beautiful; and how that solidarity in solitude could be so vital is something that, I think, is easy for many of us Gen-Xers to understand.
When the dance floor’s full all the kids look so beautiful
When the dance floor’s full all the kids look indivisible
The disremembered stars of architectural disasters
The disremembered stars as bright and lost as fireflies in jars
Do you really want to stay amongst these starving stowaways?
Do you really want to stay lost?
When the dance floor clears
I take a pack of matches as a souvenir
When the dance floor clears
I walk home alone with their voices still in my ears
The ghosts of dead teenagers sing to me while I am dancing
They’re sad and young, and they’ll be sad and young forever
My Favorite, Homeless Club Kids
Nearly everyone who spent any amount of time at Thursday’s ended up on that dance floor. It didn’t matter if you didn’t usually dance at bars. It didn’t matter if you were any good at dancing. It didn’t matter if you were a goth or an indie rock kid; male or female; black or white; gay or straight - at some point, when the right song came on, you were going to get out on that dance floor, you were going to dance your ass off; and, as you shuffled across that floor, sticky from spilled drinks; spinning around with a cigarette in one hand, and a drink in the other, along with Akron’s other freaks and misfits, you became a god or goddess.
For a lot of us regulars, most of the time in that bar was spent on that dance floor. I danced for hours on end most nights, fueled by nothing more than gin and tonics, nicotine, and one great song after another, spun by Akron’s best DJ, Mario Nemr.
If it wasn’t for the Nemr family, Thursday’s would never have existed. Fred and Barb Nemr, who opened the bar in 1983, had immigrated to Akron years earlier from Lebanon. Their work ethic, close-knit family, and generosity infused everything that happened there. In the early days, Fred and Barb were constant fixtures at the bar, as it transitioned from a biker bar by day (hence the sign on the door) and a college bar by night, to the legendary alternative nightclub that it ultimately became. After Fred died, in 2004, it continued as a family-run business, up until the day it closed.
It was truly a family affair, both literally and figuratively. All three of the Nemr’s kids worked there at one time or the other. Their youngest son, Mario, ultimately took over the day-to-day operations, and played the soundtrack to countless lives from that DJ booth. The bartenders were part of the family. The regulars were part of the family.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Thursday’s changed my life. It was a refuge and a second home. Like hundreds of others, I saw it as my bar. It was always there when I needed it to be. On 9/11, when I could no longer watch another clip of those planes flying into those buildings, or of those doomed people jumping to their deaths, I went to Thursday’s.
Like countless others, I have Mario Nemr to thank for introducing me to so much great music. I discovered dozens of new bands, and bought hundreds of albums based on hearing songs for the first time at Thursday’s.
If it wasn’t for Thursday’s, I would have never met my wife, but that is a story for another time…
Thursday’s was never much to look at. When I first started going there, it consisted of nothing more than a relatively small dance floor, a bar, not even quite two dozen places to sit, a DJ booth, a walled-in outdoor area that we called “the prison yard”, and bathrooms that were unspeakably and comically vile. The men’s room consisted of a stall of sorts with no door, no toilet paper, no soap, a toilet that always had a broken or missing cover on the tank, rarely flushed, and a trough-style urinal that always made for some awkward banter. Long before closing time, your feet would splash through a miasma of contaminated effluent as you walked into the bathroom.
Over the years, the dance floor expanded, a larger outdoor patio was added, the DJ booth was moved, and new bathrooms were constructed. But up until the very end, Thursday’s remained a place with few creature comforts. It was all about the drinks, the music, and the people.
Thursday’s grew old right alongside Generation X. It became Akron’s premiere alternative nightclub just as the oldest Gen-Xers were turning 21, and it closed just as the youngest Gen-Xers were about to turn 40.
Although it has meant more to me than any other place in Akron, when I first heard the news that Thursday’s was closing, it didn’t hit me all that hard. I hadn’t been a regular there for ten years, and despite all of the wonderful memories and good times that I had there, as I approached 40, I was okay with gracefully closing out that chapter of my life.
Nevertheless, it was comforting knowing that Thursday’s was still around if I ever wanted to pop in and have a gin and tonic, just for old time’s sake.
Now I’m approaching 50, and that door that I walked through so many times has been been closed for good. That’s going to take some getting used to.
I will remain eternally grateful to the Nemr family for creating a magical place that meant so much to so many people in Akron.
Farewell, Thursday’s. You will always be loved. You will always be missed. You will never be forgotten.
Jason Segedy is the Director of Planning and Urban Development for the City of Akron, Ohio. Segedy has worked in the urban planning field for the past 22 years, and is an avid writer on urban planning and development issues, blogging at Notes from the Underground. A lifelong resident of Akron’s west side, Jason is committed to the city, its people, and its neighborhoods. His passion is creating great places and spaces where Akronites can live, work, and play. You can check out his 19 hour-long Thursday’s Lounge Tribute playlist on Spotify here.