“I think we are in a social revolution in this city,” said Aaron Greene. “I think all the people here at Saturn, Seasick and throughout our community are trying to build this city and push this city where we think it can go.”
Greene hopes that his own venue, the newly established Syndicate Lounge (433 20th St S), can join that movement. Though Greene says it took a long time to settle into the right building for his concept and to push through the legal and financial responsibilities of a startup, he and his tight-knit group of friends believe that commitment, respect, support and love for the city are the formula required for the Syndicate Lounge to persevere.
“At Syndicate Lounge, I wanted to reach out to different genres of music and art, and I wanted to bring something back to…Southside,” Greene said. At the beginning Greene and his staff booked shows to try and build a foundation with the name Syndicate Lounge.
“It’s cool to see how far our name has grown within the scene,” Greene said. “People talk about our place like they talk about WorkPlay, Bottletree, The Nick and other spots. Our name is coming up in those conversations, and it blows me away to see how far we’ve been able to push.”
“This is now an established alt-comedy room in our city,” Ivey said. “It’s starting to build a reputation nationwide just like the Laughing Skull in Atlanta. The Syndicate Lounge has opened its arms to comedy, and our city should take notice and be proud. People have been able to watch some of the country’s best comics in an intimate setting. After the show, the comics hang out with the crowd. People are able to interact with these shows in ways that haven’t happened before.”
That’s not to mention all the musical acts that have taken the stage such as Ken Mode, The Ataris and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Plus, Syndicate Lounge has become a hub for local bands; the stage has seen many of this area’s talented musicians such as Nowhere Squares, Burning Peppermints and Nerves Baddington, to name a few.
“I think the success we’ve had comes from respecting everybody and being true to what we are doing,” Greene said. “It blows my mind because we made so much headway just by being nice and respecting the musicians.”
With its dark rooms, low ceilings and vintage treasures scattered throughout the rooms and on the walls, Greene says many guest are pleasantly surprised when they visit for the first time. “I still have people come in for the first time that and tell me how amazing our place is,” Greene said. “It feels epic every time I hear that.”
Greene and his friends brought couches, tables and paintings to remodel the club that already had a long history of unique businesses: from a hookah lounge to a spoken word and hip-hop venue. Greene explained that they wanted Syndicate Lounge to be cool and very welcoming. Laughing, he explained that his grandma’s house was an inspiration.
“I did have a cool grandma,” Greene said. “She was the product of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and I love that vintage look.”
The look seems to work for a wide variety of events, and Greene explains that the best part about the place is the ability to “flip it” for whatever occasion.
“I’ve seen this place turn into a big dance party when the Nowhere Squares played here, and then the next day we will have a wedding or a crazy metal show,” Greene said. “Same amount of people, but just a totally different vibe.”
Lindsay Ellinas, the bride in the aforementioned wedding, said she wanted her nuptials “to be a huge celebration of the city and the things I love most about what is going on right now,” which is why she chose Syndicate for her big day Nov. 22, 2015. “I chose [the venue] based on the idea of having it as ‘Birmingham’ as possible. The Syndicate is a true example of someone working selflessly from nothing to provide something invaluable to our community. It’s [Greene’s] labor of love, a gift to his city.”
For Greene, that sense of community is right there in the venue’s name. He wanted to create a space where musicians and artists could gather — a “syndicate of musicians,” he explained.
“I wanted this be like family,” Greene said. “I wanted it a place for all types of artists. And I want everyone to feel welcome coming here. Like, if parents come to watch their kids play, I want them to come in and feel at home.”
“Since I was a kid I’ve been in the music industry, and I’ve been able to learn a lot about how the industry works,” Greene added. “It’s been my dream since I was a kid to do this.”
Even with his dream coming to fruition, Greene almost had to close the doors a few times. Greene felt like he had to deal with one fee after another, from the business license to a yearly gaming fee for a pool table that is free to use. To keep Syndicate Lounge’s doors open, Greene worked around the clock as a production manager, audio engineer and the warehouse manager for Media Visions.
“I just remember having to go to work and working all types of shows while my accountant was freaking out about not having more business money,” Greene said. “And I told him this business isn’t going to be like that. We don’t have business money. It’s going to have to start old school, with blood, sweat and tears.”
There were even a few months that he and his group of friends were sleeping there as they remodeled the rooms between their jobs and working other shows next door, which was the original location for Syndicate Lounge.
“The hard part was not telling anybody about it because we were so excited,” Greene said. “However, it was rough too. I was freaking out as much as I was excited. I was paying rent at both places and I was questioning if I should quit, but I pushed through. My crew helped me push through.”
For now, Greene is excited about the future of Syndicate Lounge as he finds his place within the community.
“I feel there is a fire here in this city that pushes away from all the bad history, and it pushes us way up,” Greene said. “There are so many talented and intelligent people here that it makes Birmingham special and this place is a part of that.”
With additional reporting by Sam Prickett.