Custom House Resurrected As Everyman

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By Annie Messier
John strums a chord on his snow-white guitar and pauses.  “Did anyone here ever go to the Custom House?”  Every head nods.  “Good,” John smiles, then launches into “It’s All Right.”  The question isn’t a non sequitor, though.  The seven or eight of us he’s addressed are gathered in Everyman, the phoenix that has just risen from the ashes of the Custom House Tavern.  And I’ll tell you, it ain’t bad.

The former proprietor of Custom House Tavern just opened Everyman last week in the revamped American Locomotive Works complex (ALCO for short) on Valley Street, and the first thing that struck me and my husband on Wednesday was the available free parking.  There are mounds of it.  Acres!  Everyman was easy to spot, jutting out in the center of the complex and the only place with lights on.  We headed in, trying to keep an open mind.  See, Custom House was our favorite venue in Providence in our early 20s, and it felt like home in a way none of the trendier places ever matched.  Usually, asking harried RISD students to leave the studio was like asking Linda McCartney to grill some steaks, but he was always up for Custom House.  Whenever we walked down those stairs and into the slight dank of Custom House it was cozy, warm and authentic.  It was home.  So can Everyman pull that off?

Just about; it’s off to a good start.  The ALCO renovation created stark, loft-like spaces, but Everyman still sets a good vibe.  Mile-high ceilings expose faded, beaten planks and steel while the largest wall exposes partially white-crusted brick.  Although not copper, the bar is long, gleaming (so new the epoxy’s barely cured) and inviting.  Dozens of small, candle-lit tables dot the L-shaped floor while booths line the outer walls.  We loved the chandelier—industrial for the space but too cool to be stark.  The help was incredibly friendly, the food was great (they’re not shy with seasoning or fresh ingredients), and we had fun trying out a few new beers (top pick: Wolaver’s Nut Brown).  Along with the wine selection, dozens of liquor bottles stood at attention, most still unopened.  Giant shades along three huge windows helped cut down on the fishbowl effect, and the quality of the sound system (from both the sound setup and the CD jukebox) was good.  We asked about the current artwork because how can you not when faced with seven HUGE portraits of expressive people lining the space?  We learned the artist is Tom Adams and the subjects in the aptly named “face series” are friends of his—way cool.  Our only complaints were the lights (too bright, although dimmed perfectly upon request) and the walls (the fir wainscoting, the color of natural maple, is way too light for the room and the color scheme).

Just as the Custom House used to have, there are open mics on both Mondays and Wednesdays and live music on weekends (DJ Fridays, live jazz Saturdays, and alternating blues and bluegrass Sundays).  Thursdays will be gallery nights (not to mention the ALCO Thursday evening summer concert series right outside Everyman’s door—check out Deer Tick, Pendragon, Balla Tounkara, Santa Mamba and Watermelon Slim in the coming weeks).  Tuesdays are quiet nights, at least for now.   Intrigued by John’s white guitar, we stayed for part of his act.  He was funny and ranged nicely from Mike Nesmith’s “Joanne” to something good from XTC’s “Oranges & Lemons.”  We felt bad when we left because it reduced the population of the place by like 25%–this place needs bodies, folks.  As we neared the door the room full of complete strangers waved, asking us to come back sometime.  We will, guys, we will.  Stain those walls, pull us a Wolaver’s, and you’ve got yourselves a deal.

3 thoughts on “Custom House Resurrected As Everyman”

  1. went to Everyman last night, some good things, some not so much

    good:
    – nice atmosphere, friendly staff
    – good beer selection, great Guinness
    – stuffies app were good, reasonably priced ($3 each)

    not so good:
    – kabobs are way overpriced. One small kabob (4 small pieces of chicken, a few pieces of pepper) on a bed of rice for $9.99; if we’d ordered the two-kabob option, it would have been $19.99!
    – stuffed burger; they have to cook medium or higher, but still seemed overdone, and a little on the small size for the price ($10.00). With wilted lettuce with brown spots, thrown on plate.

    Maybe we caught them on a bad night, I wish them well, but i’m not sure if I’ll go back for the food.

  2. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the ALCO thing, this is pretty awesome for John – he’s an awesome guy. There was a period when I was going to those open mics pretty much every week. I could tell that John loved the open mics at Custom House and I was worried that when it shut down he might have done the same.

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