Venue Spotlight: Phog Lounge-- seventh heaven and the next best thing

The exterior suggests a biker bar. Inside is like walking into an off-campus party house: black walls, funky art, show posters, printouts of random in-jokes and witticisms, a motley collection of cast-off chairs and tables, Jenga and Trivial Pursuit if so you desire (and patrons frequently do) with your beer, and if Jon Corbin's on hand, homemade granola, Chex mix or chocolate chip cookies. Your hosts: the staid, soul-patched Frank Incitti and the feisty, passionate, outspoken Tom Lucier.

Welcome to Windsor's Phog Lounge, capacity 60. Now entering their seventh year in business (Happy Birthday Phog!), it's been two years since the Phog won the CBC Radio 3 Searchlight contest for Canada's Best Live Music Venue.What's changed since then?

Well, you can now get the best poutine available in Windsor. Otherwise, not much. Lucier is still booking the Who's Who of Canadian indie (past artists to take the stage include Joel Plaskett, Hannah Georgas, Holy Fuck, Final Fantasy [Owen Pallett], Shad and Patrick Watson), and people are still turning out for them. And Lucier is still lamenting that more people don't turn out for how the Phog really excels: showcasing the next best thing.

It's a no-brainer to shell out the money to see a band or artist with a Polaris Prize short-listed album, proven track record and/or getting the latest buzz. But it takes a leap of faith to invest the time and budget to see a band based on one or two hit singles or one you don't know at all. At Phog, there's a guaranteed return on that investment (usually all of a $5 cover). "I don't book bad bands," says Lucier, and N2D can attest to that. Some of our most memorable and most enjoyable shows last year involved artists we knew little about, had never seen before or even heard of: Allie Hughes, the Locusts Have No King, Raised by Swans, We Were Lovers.

Of course not all these bands will go on to fame and fortune. Especially in Canadian indie band land, that's a relative term anyway. It's all about the thrill of discovery, or as we like to say, it's all about the music. Still, it's pretty cool to be able to say you saw the next Stars at Phog Lounge before anyone knew who they were.

Photos: Russ Gordon