Scaled Back, the Mercury Cafe Is Rising With Live Entertainment

The Neal Cassady Birthday Bash in 2015 at the Mercury Cafe.
The Neal Cassady Birthday Bash in 2015 at the Mercury Cafe. Brandon Marshall
When the Mercury Cafe reopened after the COVID-19 shutdown the first weekend in June, amid Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, tear gas was floating through the neighborhood around 2199 California Street.

“We're all so supportive of the protests,” Mercury Cafe owner Marilyn Megenity says. “I was just so glad it was happening.”

That same weekend, the restaurant and venue brought back regular sets from the Gabe Gravagno Trio and classical guitarist Grisha Nisnevich, with limited audience size. For now, the Mercury is open Friday through Sunday nights as well as for Sunday brunch. While live music is coming back to the Mercury, its popular swing and blues dance nights aren’t happening yet because people aren’t allowed to dance together.

“We want to be able to pay the sound engineer and pay the musicians,” Megenity says. “It's all tricky. We've been doing one or two Black Lives Matter benefits a week with comedians. That's great, and they have really beautiful musicians in the dining rooms during the dinner hours. That is so nourishing, I can't tell you, to be able to have beautiful live music.”

While Megenity says we all need good, healthy, organic food to eat, which the Mercury serves, “we also need live music to live.”

The Mercury Cafe is now open half the days it used to be, and although the two-story building is big, Megenity says to stay legal, it has to operate at 20 percent capacity or less, which means no more than fifty people on each floor, and that makes it nearly impossible to pay the bills.

Through a GoFundMe campaign, the Mercury has raised $35,000 so far, which has covered nearly $30,000 in property taxes, licenses, operational permits and insurance.

Moving forward, Megenity says, she wants everybody to be safe, and “I want us all to get through this fall and winter safely. I want the Mercury to thrive and survive.”

Megenity is also thirsty for avant-garde rock-and-roll acts to play at the Mercury, adding that she used to occasionally run ads announcing “nice, weird acts wanted.” “And boy,” she says, “that's still the case — nice and weird."

But in these truly weird times, things are still up in the air. “We just don’t know what the virus is going to do,” she notes.

In the meantime, Megenity says, “We are enjoying eating outside in the garden, outside our doors, and that’s nice. And we're lucky that we have big windows that open wide and that our cooling system brings fresh air in from the outside.”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon