The Dragonfly Lounge, under Bellini Italian Restaurant at 401 E. Washington Ave., finally announced its presence last Wednesday, when an awning went up over what had looked like a door for deliveries. In recent months, the 75-capacity space has been increasingly busy -- but easy to miss.
The room is nicer than the phrase "venue in a restaurant's basement" would suggest. The Dragonfly has little booths, a full bar, stained-glass windows, even a gargoyle painted over the entryway. It doesn't have a stage, and when it fills up, it can get pretty muggy in there. It's becoming a useful space for local music.
Local label Mine All Mine Records has been hosting a winter series at the venue, featuring bands ranging from folk-rockers Pioneer to experimental duo Cap Alan. The series continues with this Thursday's worthwhile lineup of Echo Island, Weather Duo and Logon Aergon. The two shows in the series I've attended so far were packed.
In addition to the awning, last Wednesday brought the start of another weekly series, one focusing on improvised music. It's anchored by Glacier, the trio of Ben Willis on bass, Luke Polipnick on guitar and Geoff Brady on drums. Willis (who also plays in Weather Duo, the Lovely Socialite Mrs. Thomas W. Phipps, and Jazz Sports) says that first, sparsely attended night was just the "soft opening," and future installments will feature "guest improvisers and groups."
Like the Mine All Mine series, Glacier Wednesdays promise a healthy collision of sounds. Last week, Brady's drumming kept things taught and turbulent, while Willis switched between upright and distorted electric bass, and Polipnick wandered between nimble jazz-guitar melody and tremolo-picked aggression.
Dragonfly manager and booker Jamison Downing says that because he and many others at Bellini are musicians, they ditched an earlier plan to introduce pricier cocktails and swanky trip-hop-themed DJ nights, and instead decided to make the Dragonfly a more informal space open to local bands and DJs of any stripe.
"Everything I've been involved with, with clubs in the past, was monitoring what everybody else was doing," Downing says, of other venues. "Right now, I don't give a fuck what everybody else is doing."
Bellini executive chef Todd Downing, no relation to Jamison, says the owners tentatively plan to open Dragonfly Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. to midnight. Starting Saturday, January 21, he'll serve a late-night menu, a five-item selection that is calculated to look deceptively plain on paper.
So what is the Dragonfly Lounge supposed to turn into over the next few months? Jamison doesn't seem inclined to lay out a master plan: "We're just growing little by little."