It’s 11 p.m. on Friday at Utopia Bar and Grille. Beneath dim lights, about 30 people are seated in fold-out wooden chairs around candle-lit tables watching the stage. An acoustic trio called The Juniors perform Tears For Fears’ “Mad World,” capturing most everyone’s attention.
Adjacent to the listening room, the bar isn’t so crowded. The music is still audible, but the people here speak a little louder, less afraid of disrupting the musicians at work 20 feet away, on the other side of a thick wall.
Among these barflies is Kathy Siokos, a bright-eyed, curly-haired woman who sips at a glass of red wine like she owns the whole damn bottle — and, as it happens, she does. [online copy corrected]
For the last decade, she has been Utopia’s sole proprietor, affording her something of a godmother status among the venue’s many regulars. As she sits, various patrons approach to pay their respects. Hugs are exchanged, as well as pecks on the cheek and promises of a personal audience. She is attended by an air of impending departure; as if at any moment she might be whisked away on some errand requiring immediate attention. She seems constantly ready to battle whatever challenge might arise — her determination a key reason that Utopia is moving at the end of the month, and not closing.
Nestled next to a fireworks store near the western terminus of Rosewood Drive, Utopia has resided here for three years, having moved from a tiny room now occupied by Foxfield Bar and Grille. But the business will vacate on July 27, relocating to a new spot on Jackson Boulevard, where Siokos hopes it will reopen by the end of August. She hints at issues with her current location that she declines to discuss on the record. “Let’s just say we’ve done all we can do here,” she says.
The owner turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise $10,000 to help with the transition, but she set the deadline as Aug. 31, which wound up being way too late.
“Liquor licenses don’t move with you and they cost a few thousand dollars, so I needed a little bit of help,” she says. “It turns out [that the deadline’s] the one thing about a Kickstarter you can’t edit, so I just had to take it down.”
The Kickstarter page, which she took down two weeks ago, has been supplanted by a new one on the similar site Gofundme. Unlike Kickstarter, Gofundme doesn’t require campaigns to reach their stated goals in order to get paid. Instead, donations go immediately to the cause.
But while Utopia’s Kickstarter only managed $800 before being cancelled, Siokos insists that her decision wasn’t motivated by sluggish donations.
“We didn’t need as much money, and I didn’t feel right about taking more than we needed,” she says. As of press time, Utopia’s Gofundme page had raised $675 towards its $6,000 goal. “The important thing is that local talent has a place to come.”
And come they do. During our chat, stalwart Columbia musician Bentz Kirby breezes into the room and exchanges a warm greeting with Siokos.
“Utopia is like home,” says Jenn McCallister, vocalist for the local act Stillhouse and co-owner of Loose Lucy’s in Five Points. “When I play [there] I know that I will be not only paid, but also fed and watered.”
Siokos is comfortable with the built-in clientele that Utopia has established, but her excitement is tempered by the financial and aesthetic challenges of moving into her next space, among them some crucial and costly renovations.
“The new place isn’t as big and so we’re going to be doing less food than we are now,” she says. “It’ll be less of a burden and free me up to keep the focus more on the music.”
As if on cue, a soft female voice floats in from the stage, musing that all around us are familiar faces and worn-out places.
Siokos nods approvingly: “When it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” she offers.
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