Two weeks before these words were written, The Sand Dollar Blues Lounge was revived with the ceremonial lighting of its neon signage staring down Spring Mountain Road. Even though Lisa Drankiewicz-Guerena and her business partners had taken over the space months before, they were now able to confirm, able to call this space theirs and no longer Lonny Campos’ alt-rock replacement of the original Sand Dollar, The Bikini Bar.
Tonight, a Wednesday, it’s Sand Dollar Bike Night. Inside is the Chris Bell Band, a southern rock and blues trio led by an anomalous black cowboy playing Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue on Black.” There are 50 people watching, which is an impressive number given the evening, the location and the extremely limited marketing of Sand Dollar’s return. Half of them are what I guess you could describe as Blues Women. Women who are most probably referred to, in an endearing way, as someone’s old lady. Many of them are extremely tan, and the difference between purchased tans and ones earned on the backs of motorcycles are hard to pick out in the theater-dark performance area of the room. They talk about how much they missed the Sand Dollar, how glad they are it’s back. How much it means to everyone in the community. “It was always our home base,” says Scott Rhiner of Scott Rhiner and The Moanin’ Blacksnakes. “[It being back] feels like Groundhog Day.”
Scott Rhiner has seen three owners during the eight years he and his Moanin’ Blacksnakes played at The Sand Dollar Blues Lounge. He saw it as the biker-beaten dive, where biker gang colors were outlawed, where the sound system hissed and crackled like eggs in a frying pan. He saw it after Steve Champlin bought it toward the end of 2009, replacing the PA, cleaning up what might be filed under the umbrella term “crud” — from the bathroom plumbing to the tap lines. He saw it turned into scant-clad rock spot The Bikini Bar courtesy of Lonny Campos at the end of 2010. And now, as of Oct. 4, he’s watched the Sand Dollar sign return to its rightful place, above a hole in the wall on Spring Mountain Road. He’s hopeful, talking about it being the home of the blues again on the weekends. But given the track record of the venue and the scene in general, he has his own reservations.
Reservations Guerena plans to dissolve, for everyone. “The loss of the Sand Dollar put a hole in people’s hearts,” she says. “Maybe now that it’s made a return, our hope is people won’t take it for granted. We want to gain back the blues-lovers and the people who used to, basically, live here.”
A blues-lover since younghood, Guerena found out the bar went up for sale months before making the purchase. “When I saw that it was now The Bikini Bar, I thought it would be a great idea to turn it back into The Sand Dollar and bring back the blues. Why would you fix something that’s not broke?”
Sure, she’s speaking in terms of metaphorical mechanics. But she’s touching on something more pressing. If the Sand Dollar failed the first time, what’s to stop its redux from the same fate? Guerena says the right staff, the right contacts and up-to-date approaches on advertising that translate better in 2012. “This is a totally different city than it was back in the day,” she says. “We’re hoping that works in our favor.”