Madison has two new music venues: Redamte, a java joint at 449 State St., and Dragonfly Lounge, a candle-lined taproom in the basement of Bellini restaurant (401 E. Washington Ave.). They sprouted from the efforts of their owners and the clever ideas of two groups: homegrown label Mine All Mine Records and local concert-booking agency TKG Music Group.
Co-owned by Pete Gargano, a member of rock band Sun Dried Truth, Bellini has doubled as a musicians' haven for more than a decade, according to Dragonfly manager Jamison Downing. It just didn't become a public destination until recently.
"About two years ago, Pete and I decided to do more with the room than just private events," Downing says. "We don't call it the basement; we call it the living room. It made sense to let everyone enjoy it."
Fast-forward to 2011, when a few bartending friends of Mine All Mine began ruminating as they muddled cocktails. Few 100-person venues boast a full bar and an enigmatic gargoyle statue, they reasoned. Why not turn Dragonfly into a venue?
Downing was convinced. He met with the label's brain trust, John Kruse and Corey Murphy, who helped draft a plan for unveiling Dragonfly to the public. "We realized we could promote our label and promote Dragonfly at the same time," says Kruse. "We'd also been looking to organize more concerts, and this seemed like the perfect place to hold them."
"Plus, it's a space that has the vibe of a private party, but without the hassles of actually hosting a party at your house," Murphy adds.
The duo welcomed the public into the lounge for the first time on Dec. 3 for a solo EP-release show by Tom Teslik, a Bellini bartender who belongs to their experimental pop band, Pushmi-Pullyu. The performance launched a concert series that features Milwaukee post-rock outfit Temple and Chicago indie rockers Young Jesus on Feb. 24, followed by local experimental-jazz group Lovely Socialite March 3 and old-timey Seattle songstress Shenandoah Davis April 12.
As it happens, Teslik is booking shows for another new Madison venue, Redamte Coffeehouse. Beginning Feb. 29, he'll bring acoustic performers to the cafe the last Wednesday of each month. Mike Armstrong, a local singer-songwriter with a soft spot for freak folk, kicks off the series.
"Redamte has a big room that's perfect for acoustic acts," Teslik says. "It's not cluttered with tables, and it has this long, refinished hardwood floor that helps the sound carry."
This series complements the concerts that Tom Klein, head of TKG Music Group, books for the venue.
Armed with a graduate certificate from Edgewood College's sustainability leadership program, Klein entered the coffee-shop venture on the ground floor, helping plan its farm-to-table concept and its musical vibe. After lots of elbow grease, including the installation of a digital sound console, the space is a prime spot for both plugged-in and unplugged artists. The venue hosts a Feb. 10 solo show by piano prodigy Marco Benevento and a March 10 performance by singer-songwriter Rachel Platten, with many more to follow.
"The overall feel of the place is warm and cozy," says Klein. "It always smells nice, with something tasty being cooked or brewed, and the drop ceilings help the space feel very open. There's nothing about the décor that makes it feel like a folk place or a rock club. You don't expect to hear a certain type of music here, and you can customize the space by setting up chairs or by dimming the lights and putting candles on the tables."
Klein says part of the venue's mission involves making musicians feel at home, whether they're on the road or living nearby.
"We want them to leave feeling like it's a place filled with kind people who paid them fairly and gave them a good meal of local food," he says. "It's less about it being another gig in another town, and more about it being a collaborative space that shows what Madison's all about."