​Shenanigans Upstairs: Landmark Launches New Venue

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Shenanigans new upstairs music and event space is open for private and public gatherings, with the promise of live music starting this summer.
The remodeled area, melded into the existing structure of the almost 150-year-old building, features a bar with seating for about 11 people, and will soon include a portable stage, new sound system and concert lighting.
Mechi Ingles, former general manager at Shenanigans, said the space is a piece that Shenanigans was missing.
“The plans for upstairs are absolutely fantastic and kind of mind-blowing for somebody like me who’s grown up in Sewanee and seen Shenanigans as it has been for so long,” she said. “It’s going to be an amazing venue.”
With the addition, Shenanigans has also purchased a wine and liquor license. Wine is already pouring there, said Bill Elder, the eatery’s co-owner, and liquor will be added “slowly but surely.”
The new space will also mean more jobs for catering, bartending and the like, he noted, estimating that he may need to hire up to 15 new people.
Elder and co-owner Nelson Byrd re-opened Shenanigans in February 2014 after it had been closed for almost two years. Elder called it a labor of love to keep the restaurant, which opened in 1974, in existence.
“The universe needs the spicy turkey melt, the bathroom graffiti and the tilted wall,” he said.
Shenanigan’s has hosted plenty of concerts downstairs, but the flow of the restaurant and space limitations present challenges, he noted. A professional musician who splits time between Sewanee and Nashville, Elder said his inspiration for the upstairs’ design comes from d.b.a., a musical hotspot in New Orleans.
The Crescent City native added that Sewanee sits in a sweet spot for touring musicians.
“It makes all the sense in the world for Sewanee, right between Nashville and Atlanta and Memphis and Charlotte; you have all these musicians passing through here…there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to have a vibrant and regular, world-class live music presence,” he said.
The first musical event upstairs is tentatively slated for June 23, a fundraiser for Folks at Home, Ingles said. Her significant other, Mabus Jackson, is a musician and music promoter.
Previous owners have used the upstairs for storage, housing, art studios, a Masonic lodge clubroom, and office space. One wild rumor is that John Wilkes Booth lived there when he fled to Sewanee after he escaped his reported death in a fiery barn in Virginia.
Elder said the past six owners put their own touches on Shenanigans, and the new addition with its garage door opening onto the upper deck and views of the Sewanee Village, is his touch.
“I consider people who owned Shenanigans as stewards of this iconic building and really important community landmark,” he said. “Each one has kind of put their signature on it as far as structurally, menu-wise…any number of things. For me, it’s upstairs, that’s my contribution as a Shenanigans steward.”
Samuel C. Hoge and John Miller first built the building that now houses the eatery around 1870, according to research from former Sewanee student Hallie Ragsdale.
Hoge and Miller opened a general store, which also served as post office for a short time, according to Ragsdale’s research. In June 1897, Hoge sold the store to George D. Gipson. In 1907, it became Sewanee Lodge No. 544 of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows.
L.C. Winn eventually reinvented the structure as Winn’s General Store in 1934. During World War II, the University rented the building for use as a laundry service. There are also stories that there was once a roller skating rink inside the building, Ragsdale wrote. Sometime around 1964, a cobbler shop also functioned as part of Winn’s store. Raymond Winn eventually sold the building to Richard Riddell, and Shenanigans opened in 1974.