Smokehouse Lounge's Music Lineup is Smokin'

New Vintage Oaks restaurant hopes its intimate 110-seat performing space will attract a steady Novato audience, such as for Friday's performance by Bonnie Hayes.

If you’re one of the many Novato residents who have decried the lack of nightlife in our city, consider this option on Friday night: Bonnie Hayes and her band, the Superbonbons, take to the stage of the Smokehouse Lounge in Novato's . Acoustic Son, celebrating the release of its new CD — produced by Hayes — will start the show at 9 p.m.

This new place at the , which opened the first week of May, is trying to fulfill two separate but related — and oft’ talked about — needs in Novato: more restaurants and more nightlife. Management at Southern Pacific Smokehouse is hoping its 110-seat lounge will attract an audience for its live music shows kind of like bees to honey on a big slab of cornbread. And they’re hoping patrons will keep coming back for more, kind of like fingers reaching again and again for a sweet potato fry.

It’s a big gamble opening a new restaurant or club in this economy, and this one is double down for the count. Will Novato support what it says it wants?

As the name suggests, the Southern Pacific Smokehouse offers down-home music, country and blues, Americana comfort with a Marin twist. Plus there are the food, beer and cocktails to go with it.

The prices reflect the quality of the ingredients of what goes in both mouths and ears. Imagine: Musicians who get paid to play in Novato!

It’s too early to tell how well the Southern Pacific Smokehouse will fare in the long term, but it does seem like an opportunity to test where the sustainably raised meat meets the fire, the organic produce hits the chopping block and where the string meets the twang. 

Parents with younger kids have grown accustomed to the tinny pop sounds of Katy Perry and Bruno Mars blasting out of every electronic orifice in their home and automobile. But those adults might very well enjoy the fat sound of a Telecaster or Les Paul, the rich vibration of a Hammond B3 and the husky, resonant vocals that blues and country music have to offer. There is, after all, nothing like live music.

“When you’re on stage, you can see every person in the room,” says Carrie Channell, creative director of Southern Pacific Smokehouse, who designed the interior space. “It’s a casual roadhouse with a little bit of sexiness. ... The lounge was acoustically designed by musicians for musicians.”

Bonnie Hayes fits the bill as a prominent musician who is well known for getting her ya-yas out on stage and putting on an excellent kick-out-the-jams show. (She once toured with Billy Idol, among others, as a keyboard player/backing vocalist.) She is also a successful songwriter who is best known for writing two songs for Bonnie Raitt’s multiplatinum, multi-Grammy-winning CD from 1989, “Nick of Time.”

Hayes said it was hard to part with those songs because she wanted to record them for her own album, but she did it anyway.

“I had said no to Cher a couple years earlier and missed out on having one of my songs on a record that went on to sell, oh, about 10 million copies,” she says, “so I wasn’t going to do that again.”

Hayes has written songs for artists as diverse as Bette Midler, Robert Cray, Adam Ant, David Crosby and Booker T and the MG's.

Hayes is also a popular songwriting teacher at Blue Bear, a nonprofit school operating out of Fort Mason in San Francisco. She also co-owns and runs a production studio in San Rafael known as Icehouse where world-class producers such Don Was, Mutt Lange and Bill Botrell have tweaked the knobs and spun their magic. The Hayes-produced CD for the Gospel Hummingbirds was nominated for a Grammy in 1995.

Friday night is the Marin CD-release party for another Hayes-produced CD from the acoustic rock and alternative country band, Acoustic Son.

The Smokehouse Lounge is open Tuesdays through Saturdays with various cover charges and starting times. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the cover is just $5 with shows starting at 7 p.m.; Thursday’s cover is $15 with a show time of 7 (tonight is world-class magician Jay Alexander of Novato); Fridays and Saturdays the shows are $20 with a VIP option of $50 with the extra $30 going toward food and drink and/or merchandise.

So the question is, Are you in, and do you want a sweet potato fry with that?

Norma Dawson June 16, 2011 at 08:23 PM
We were there a couple of weeks ago for The Rubber Souldiers, it was awesome!! What a great addition to Novato.
Novato Chess Club June 17, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Go Rickey's :)
Matthew Hodge June 18, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Hmmmm Music/Barbeque joint in Vintage Oaks? They tried that in 94'. Novato may have alot of hicks but, I think culturally it's all bad Hip hop/pop, amphetemines, alcohol, and television for their entertainment. Good luck though!
Mark Schoenbaum June 19, 2011 at 03:26 AM
I like the food at the smokehouse. Excellent, and they have a great smoker. My disappointments are that a) I think they are overpriced, somewhat on the food but especially on the drinks, and b) the music is in a separate lounge which has a separate cover and only allows 21+. Our children love music and we try to expose them every chance we get, but they are not welcome at the smokehouse lounge. I think that having the music available to the diners, much like Finnegan's, is a much better option.
Larry L June 19, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Yes I have to Agree; the drinks are to expensive and the food is also. The BBQ tasted like it had been boiled and all the taste was gone except for the sauce that they tried to cook into it. And to have the music in a private room with a cover charge is a poor idea. What would an evening there cost??/Lots of $$$$.


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