Beloved dive bar reopens under new management

High Ground sits down with new Buccaneer owner Jonathan Kiersky to talk about what's next for the iconic Midtown music venue -- and what makes this dive bar worth saving.
The Bucc is back and fully operational thanks to former Hi-Tone owner, Jonathan Kiersky. When the news broke last month I was in St. Louis with my family and all I wanted to do was come home and join the party.

The Buccaneer had become a shell of itself in recent months as multiple reports peppered my newsfeed of people not being welcomed into the bar. Some visitors, including mainstay regulars, had even said they were profiled, insulted and threatened by the former owner. The Buccaneer historically had always been welcoming. A tour stop for many up-and-coming bands and local bands, and a destination for folks traveling through Memphis. From the juke box to the cozy bar, to there not being a stage, not to mention the patio, the Buccaneer was always a comfortable place to visit.

From the moment I turned 21, and to be honest, probably before then, I had my mind set on going to the Buccaneer Lounge. As a musician and music-lover I knew this was the place I could grab a cold beer, meet some interesting people and hear some loud rock and roll. Tucked away on Monroe just off of Cleveland, the Buccaneer sits unassuming, but also intriguing.

I, personally, am glad Jonathan is back in town and at the helm of another great dive bar in our city. I had a chance to catch up with him to ask about the future of the iconic bar.

When did you first have the idea to pursue the Buccaneer?
Around December or January. I had been contacted to buy one half of the Buccaneer. After the sale went through to Charles, it was his and I stepped back. And then after it seemed like the Bucc wasn't booking bands and there were some rumblings on social media that things were not the same as they had always been, I contacted Charles, who is a great friend of mine, and talked to him about taking over. At first, he was not receptive. The Buccaneer has always been my favorite dive bar for not only myself but many of my friends. It also happens to be a very key cog of the Memphis music scene. The Bucc was always the place locals played and touring bands would play before they graduated to the Hi-Tone, so it was extremely important to keep that going. So the idea came out of both those factors even though I highly doubted I was going to do another bar for a few years.

From what I had heard and read on social media, it sounded like the Bucc really needed saving. As a Memphian and music lover did you feel compelled to step in and save it? Is this what brought you back from New Orleans?
It’s strange — I actually came back to Memphis for different reasons. I needed surgery on my ankle and my dog needed to have a serious check-up because I was worried about a couple of bumps on his chest. I’ve always kept my doctor and my dog’s vet in town because they are so good. Then I started seeing what had become of the music landscape in town and there were agents and bands that were telling me that they were just skipping Memphis. I really didn’t know what was going on in the city, but it didn’t seem good. I was (and still am) working on a major tech startup and because I know so many talented folks in Memphis, I decided that it would be better to start the business in Memphis just due to the fact that I have such a great support system here and, again, the talent here is tremendous. Did it need saving? Yeah, it did. And Memphis is a very music-centric city, maybe more than anywhere I’ve lived. In a way I felt compelled because I just couldn’t see Memphis thrive without the Buccaneer being a part of that.

What has the response been to the Bucc reopening? What has surprised you most?
The response has been crazier than I ever expected. I mean, in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have expected the outpouring of love for the Bucc. I also can’t believe how many people have come up to say “thank you, I’m glad you’re back. We need you.” That made it feel great and weird all at the same time. I had little self-awareness as to what I meant to this community. It’s very humbling to say the least. It’s also amazingly rad. Seeing your friends, bands you booked, my friends who worked at the Bucc and things like that smile and be so happy really is the best part of life. What surprised me? We trended on Facebook for a while on Friday. That’s pretty crazy!

What changes will you make or will there be any?
Not many at all. We will reconfigure the kitchen, bring back some of the old Hi-Tone kitchen stuff to the Bucc. My connections in the music business will allow for us to get a few bands that we probably shouldn’t. We will have a couple of minor internal things that make the Bucc run a touch better but for the patron, it’ll be the exact same.
Dive bars are part of what help shape our city. I've always loved the Hi-Tone, P&H and Lamplighter, but there's something about the Bucc. What is it about the Bucc that sets it apart from other dives?
The Bucc is a very interesting place. A friend will bring someone new in and will say to them “Why do you hang out here, it’s dark and a dive?” The friend will respond “Yeah, it’s my home away from home.” The Bucc is kind of the place that is pre-cell phone, you always know someone up there if you go in there semi-regularly. The other part is the music. With the stage being on the floor, the shows just become absolutely amazing. It’s full bore for the musician and the audience and that’s something you just can’t recreate. So you add in the familial part with the fact that some of the people who drink here regularly are also the people playing in the bands it is kind of a perfect storm of a show.