Clarksville's 'Coup' Brings Progressive Thought Downtown

PHOTO: The Coup's College Street location.

CLARKSVILLE, TN (6/26/13)—Within five minutes of walking into the new location for The Coup, I was horizontal on the venue's floor with Zach Lerman, Matt Watkins, and Josh Williams experiencing how cold tiles can get when air-conditioned.

I was happy to get some relief from the humid, hot weather outside, but I was still fairly surprised by what was going on.

I wasn't surprised by the fact that I was starting an interview with a few small business owners by collectively laying down on their tile floor—The Coup has been hell-bent on breaking conventions for the last five years—it was the room's air conditioning and the floor's cleanliness that surprised me.

The Coup never had much control over the climate of its former College Street location—heat lamps kept people warm in the winter while every set in the summer was punctuated by a mass exodus of people to the fresh air outside—but The Coup's crew has picked up a new set of keys.

And beyond just adding air conditioning and heating, The Coup has taken on a location that will be the biggest step towards engaging the greater Clarksville community that the music venue/community center/restaurant has taken.

With Clarksville’s conservative establishment in their backyard, the new location will likely test the owners of The Coup—their current cash-strapped status won't make it any easier—but the move will also offer big opportunities, both to Clarksville and The Coup.

An Outpost of Progressive Thought

The Coup's movement over the last five years—from the outer fringes of downtown on Crossland Avenue and College Street to the heart of Clarksville on University Avenue—is material evidence of the journey The Coup has taken since it was founded five years ago.

Lerman and the rest of the management had the freedom to be nearly as wild as they wanted when they were running a dirty venue in one of Clarksville's poorer neighborhoods. And that's what it seems like the founders were looking to do: have a place to get weird.

PHOTO: The Coup's first location on Crossland Avenue.

At first, The Coup was strictly a music venue. They hosted shows, but didn't serve food or alcohol. They eventually wanted to get a beer license, but they found out that they would have to get a restaurant license as well in order to keep the venue all ages.

So they went nearly bankrupt getting both licenses.

After three years on Crossland Avenue, they picked up and moved to College Street, a move that told Clarksville they were no longer content being a concealed outpost of progressive thought.

Their new perch on College Street, while not in downtown, was essentially a welcome sign for people heading towards the center of Clarksville. Whether or not they were interested, the average Clarksville resident saw what was going on at The Coup.

When Lerman set up a PA on The Coup's front deck to broadcast his monologues, passing motorists had no choice but to hear diatribes against corporate America. Drivers had no ignore button to press when they saw The Coup's patrons playing with fire or massive hula hoops in the parking lot.

And this third move will bring The Coup and its message even closer to the culture of Clarksville that it so often rails against. For better or worse, Clarksville's finest will now be at The Coup's door faster than ever before and Clarksville's leaders will have a tougher time ignoring what happens at one of the city's only bastions of liberal, progressive thought.

The implications of this move don't seem to be lost on the people behind The Coup.

PHOTO (from left): Matt Watkins, Josh Williams, Xanthi Diamond and Zach Lerman

"Dan Choi [one of The Coup's volunteers/employees] made the comment, 'Oh we're about to move here. Time to make some new friends and some new enemies.' That sounds about right," Lerman said. "Some people will like it and some people will not like it."

Lerman's attitude betrays a confidence that him and the rest of The Coup's owners—Stacy Gazenski, Kory Kyle, and Matt Watkins—have gained since they set up shop five years ago. The Coup is no longer a place to hide out from the establishment—it's becoming an institution that wants to be noticed.

More Than a Venue

The Coup's latest move may be its furthest step towards central Clarksville, but it's also the completion of a circle. Lerman got his start promoting shows at the new University Avenue location when it housed The Icehouse bar.

"I was always trying to book shows and stuff, but it was really stupid because nobody really wanted it," Lerman said. "So this was just a place I already knew. I knew people that worked here. I knew the owner."

But The Coup will look far different when it returns to The Icehouse's former location. Shows will still be put on, but it's more accurate to call The Coup a community center than a venue.

Depending on when you were at The Coup's College Street location, you could see people gardening, doing yoga, reciting poetry, playing trivia, belly dancing, meditating, riding bicycles, falling off unicycles, spinning hula hoops or playing with fire.

And food has moved far from its humble beginnings as an item on a legal checklist.

Some of the best bread in Clarksville comes out of The Coup's kitchen now that Josh Williams has been added to The Coup's management and a constantly shifting menu has given Clarksville its first seasonal, vegetarian-friendly eatery.

Williams brought serious kitchen tools into the College Street location, but, with the addition of a professional gas stove and oven, this move will give The Coup its biggest culinary step up.

And that means that when The Coup opens its University Avenue doors, it won't just be bringing liberal politics and avante-garde music to downtown—it'll be putting quality, handcrafted food in what is nearly a good-food desert.

The Coup's homemade bread will stand out against The Blackhorse's ready-made pizza—downtown's most popular pizza place doesn't make it's own dough—and The Coup's emphasis on real, locally-sourced ingredients will be a stark contrast against The Gilroy's provel-cheese-covered menu.

The Coup has been one of Clarksville's earliest supporters of craft beer, but they won't be alone on University Avenue. Clarksville's most carefully-curated beer menu will be next door at The Pea Patch, and even The Gilroy, with it's penchant for highly-processed cheese and corporate pop music, which has embraced craft beer.

But there's talk of acquiring a wine and liquor license at The Coup—if that happens and The Coup stays to their usual ethos, that will mean that Clarksville will finally have a place to get great quality, local beer, food, wine, and liquor in one place.

And that's something that will stretch The Coup's appeal beyond its usual clientele.

If they can keep their quality up and not scare off University Avenue's foot traffic—and that second point is a fairly big if—The Coup could become the most popular food spot downtown.

PHOTO: A look inside The Coup's new location.

The pieces are there for The Coup to flourish in their new location, but, with money increasingly tight, nothing is guaranteed.

"We don't have any money right now," Lerman said. "We're just throwing every penny and every borrowed penny we have into opening this place in the hopes that it will be successful."

But this isn't the first time that The Coup has been down to their last dollar—family and friend donations have propped the venture up at various points—and money has never really been The Coup's inspiration.

"We were really extensive about our business plan. We did all the numbers and projections and everything... the numbers never ever actually worked out," Lerman said. "We would do the math hundreds of times and it just came up like, this is not going to work."

But five years later, The Coup is still working and the community around it is still growing.

"We get a lot of good reviews from Nashville bands that like to play here, mostly because of the people," Lerman said, "and that has generally been what has kept this place alive—people that actually care and are involved and feel like they belong. And it's not necessarily a certain type of person, but a common theme: open-mindedness."

Liberate Te Ex Jesse Smith, Methdad, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, and Little Ruckus are kicking off the new Coup with a $3 show this Thursday, June 27th at 9pm.

Thursday night we'll be the weirdest University Ave has gotten in years—here's to hoping it's only the first of many weird nights.

Sugg Street Post
Writing/Photos by Klaus von Sprekels

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