Borland on Bars: Alchemy Tavern
by Tim Borland
LoDa regulars are faced with a myriad of bar options downtown. Because of the diverse nature of the Azalea City, friends can often find themselves at odds as to what kind of spirits to enjoy and what sort of ambiance to soak up while they do so. Although bar hopping along Dauphin Street is a common pastime, those who desire a little taste of everything in one place should consider taking a detour to 7 S. Joachim Street.
Alchemy Tavern presents multiple bar areas for a variety of entertainment experiences. Getting lost in the structure itself is no difficult feat. An important landmark to Mobile, the historic building was constructed by a former Mayor in 1853, and briefly housed Nicola Marschall, the designer of the Confederate flag and uniform. The space passed through a number of different owners before being purchased in modern times and repurposed into an independently owned business which encourages diversity and opens its doors to all people of all interests.
Current owner Matt Charnetski’s concept for the different areas of the bar could be described as ‘classy downstairs, trashy upstairs.’ The Downstairs Bar boasts just about anything a selective imbiber might desire – traditional room length wooden bar, vintage lighting, flat screen televisions, 42 taps of craft beers from regional breweries, and an impressive whiskey collection of over 100 options which includes an infamous $160 shot of Scotch.
Kaci Stephens and Finneas Scott
“Its fantastic. If you are a bourbon, scotch, or whiskey drinker we have one of the largest selections downtown, fine craft beers, and live music. We always have something going on so its always an entertaining night,” bartender Finneas Scott enthuses.
“We have a great atmosphere. There is always a lot of fun people and new cool drinks,” bartender Kaci Stephens says.
Drinkers with less expensive tastes need not worry, there are plenty of very reasonably priced well liquors and beers, and including many from local and regional breweries. This smoke free front area accessible via the street entrance is home to weekly events such as cover free acoustic performances, karaoke, trivia, and video game tournaments among other activities. Those who venture deeper into the same floor will discover the Back Bar, which comes in handy for receptions and private events. The quieter room features an adjacent pool table and opens onto the patio.
Alchemy is filled with downtown regulars who help to give the bar its unique flavor. Everyone, from employees to frequent customers, speak fondly of the establishment and what it provides for guests. The staff is a big key to the business’s success, with friendly bartenders chatting up patrons and offering them the latest local brews.
Jeremy Garner and Amanda Polley
“It’s a pretty great place to work and the best part is everybody is my friend,” bartender Jeremy Garner shares.
“I like the challenge of making people special drinks. Matt is a really great owner and his whole family is really great to work for,” bartender Amanda Polley explains.
Alchemy Upstairs is almost like a completely separate venue. With a separate entrance located at the top of a stairwell surrounded by metalwork, guests can enter without even walking through the rest of the establishment. Music events are held multiple nights a week bringing some of the best up and coming bands to the Port City.
Alchemy is a key venue of Mobile’s music scene. The location has served as a frequent anchor stage for SouthSound Festival, and provides a medium sized location for Mobile bands to grow with their audiences. Several area musicians sing the praises of Alchemy’s owner and staff. On nights where multiple events occur simultaneously, patrons can easily circulate from one area to another enjoying the different musical genres.
“Independent local venues are the lifeblood of the music scene here in Mobile, and Alchemy most certainly plays a major role in that. It’s important to support these venues … There is simply no place for local music in Mobile without these businesses,” drummer Brian Dunbar of The Hallers insists.
The dimly lit upstairs is decorated with attractive wall panels opposite a comically haggard-looking deer head adorned with Mardi Gras beads. There are barstools, tables, and chairs for guests, as well as clean modern restrooms. Alchemy Upstairs allows smoking indoors and offers cheaper drink specials. Guests can enjoy the pool table, foosball table, skeeball machine, flat screen televisions, and of course live music.
“I love the downtown service industry since I came into it. I spent a long time working corporate retail and having to go through 12 bosses to get anything done. I love working downtown at Alchemy because I see the owner every time I come into a shift. The environment here is really cool since Alchemy has a very diverse crowd – we are definitely an ‘everybody’s welcome’ kind of place,” bartender and Glass War musician Brian Wattier emphasizes.
There are numerous weekly and special events that occur primarily upstairs as well. Sundays Open Mic Night, with host David Chatel of Red Field, is a popular draw. There are special drinks such as the popular Ninja Turtle Shots, and numerous cheap drafts and wells. Occasionally special events like Nerf Wars will transform the upstairs area into a blacklight obstacle course, which is an example of just how unique Alchemy can be.
“I love hosting Alchemy’s open mic. It’s a great opportunity for Mobile’s up-and-coming musicians, comedians, and poets to work on their craft and build a fan base,” Chatel says.
The metal balcony overlooking Joachim faces the Mobile Saenger Theater, making the porch a perfect stoop for people watching. There is no wonder that many guests attending concerts at the Saenger wander across the street to Alchemy either for a pre-show drink or for an official afterparty. Additionally, hungry guests are only footsteps away from sustenance on Dauphin Street, meaning they can stroll away for a bite and return to continue the evening.
“People can come from the Saenger after a show and get a nice cocktail downstairs, or they can come upstairs and get a beer and a shot of whiskey. I really dig the sound at the Alchemy Upstairs stage, its always on point; Chris Cole always runs our sound, and can handle any setup. I don’t feel like I am at work, I’m up here hanging out with friends,” bartender and Glass War member DanielHoward expresses.
Guests pack the downstairs for Karaoke
The Outdoor Patio at Alchemy serves many purposes. As an overflow for both the upstairs and downstairs bars, guests can step outside for fresh air or a cigarette without leaving the bar itself. Tables with umbrellas provide shade during the daytime.
The wooden deck is built around huge trees seemingly growing from the concrete underneath. The most recent addition is a brand new sound system for the outdoor stage. Utilized weekly for Alchemy’s Sunday Liquid Brunch, the patio stage has featured local musicians such as The Crown Jewelz.
Customers help create an ambiance of their own as well. The same music lovers tend to bump into each other at concerts, leading many to become better acquainted and make new connections. Alchemy provides a central hub downtown that everyone knows as an easy meeting spot, only a few steps from the heart of Dauphin Street. Different sections of the bar are also frequently used for private parties and Mardi Gras events. The tight security ensures that everyone present feels safe.
“We have hardly any problems, anything that does happen gets handled in a civilized manner and its easy money,” security employee Justin Chance says.
Perhaps what is most appealing about Alchemy is not just that there are separate bar experiences for every type of consumer, but that all of these experiences are intertwined allowing intersections of completely different social groups which might otherwise never cross paths.
“I would say that working at an independent bar is like working at Empire Records. It’s very fun and gives the opportunity to work with interesting, quirky and commercially unpolarized folks … the freak flag flies fairly high with the service workers downtown,” bartender and Underhill Family Orchestra member Steven Bryte Laney elucidates.