You can see the red glow of the neon cat hanging in the window of the Black Cat Bar from a block away.
Last Sunday, a handful of people sat inside the recently redone bar (4246 University Ave. in City Heights) listening to the jukebox and sipping $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons and cheap mixed drinks. A local named Andrew acted as the unofficial greeter, explaining that he was a regular back when the place was still Nancy’s Pub.
“I’ve been coming here since, like, the ’70s, and look at me; I’m still here,” he laughed, stumbling out of his stool and pointing toward an older lady sitting alone at the end of the bar. “She’s a regular, too. But this girl next to me here is new. She’s an adventurist.”
The so-called “adventurist” is one of the few younger hipster-types who’ve found their way to Black Cat, but mostly the place has stayed underground. Even with attention from The Reader and the newsletter Thrillest, owner Matt Parker says things have remained really mellow.
Parker dutifully swept the sidewalk outside the bar, dusted the two pool tables and cleaned the glass on the front door as a few rockabilly types dropped in to play pool. He said he kept things quiet about the bar’s opening, at first, because he was waiting for an icemaker. He was finally able to afford the new equipment, but now he’s waiting to get his cabaret license so he can put the bar’s small stage to use.
“Then I’ll start trying to get more people in here,” he said. “It’s been really interesting so far. There are always so many ethnicities here— Somalis, Vietnamese, Mexicans— and sometimes these hipsters come in and mingle with the locals.”
Parker, a bartender at The Turf Club for more than a decade, said he looked at opening the bar as a kind of “noble experiment.” He said the regular crowd that fills the bar’s new booths can “get kind of shady sometimes,” but he has faith that things will get better.
“I’m trying to take a stab at opening a nice, clean place,” he said. “I’ve been called crazy and stupid for opening up in the ghetto, but things change. City Heights is up-and-coming.”
Parker looked up at the beautiful gold crown molding and eyed the glass chandelier dangling in the center of the bar. He digs horror movies and wanted the bar to resemble a haunted house.
“I just love this old building,” he said.