By Justin Morris
Jack: What do you do when a good-looking guy walks into the Regal Beagle? (He pretends to walk in.) Well?
Janet: I’m still waiting for the good-looking guy to come in.
— Three’s Company
We may be a long way from the yuks of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s ABC hit Three’s Company. But there’s something of that show on Ryan Street. While our Regal Beagle may differ in many ways from the favorite watering hole of Jack, Janet and Chrissy, it does have quite a few things in common with its TV namesake. Now that it’s under new ownership, those similarities will only become more evident in the days to come.
Though only a couple of years old, Regal Beagle changed hands last October. The new owners are a trio of local guys who have been fronted, if you will, by local stand-up comedian Jay Moody, who, with his partners Deven Fontenot and Brandon Moore, and his penchant for humor and performance, are turning the Regal Beagle into a dive bar that features live music, theater and, of course, stand-up comedy.
I met with the local funny man and entrepreneur on a warm May afternoon, and found him sitting quietly at his bar with no more company than a cigar and a good California IPA. In true watering hole style, he “hops” up and cracks open a bottle of the same for me. We have a seat at the bar and start to find out more about who Moody is and what the new Regal Beagle is all about.
Moody: I think this building has always been a bar. My grandfather used to come here when we were kids and we’d be riding in the back of his truck. But since October, 2017, I and my two business partners have owned the Regal Beagle and we’ve been making changes ever since.
Morris: I know I’m familiar with your comedy background. That’s something that I thought was interesting given that under the previous owners, this wasn’t an entertainment venue. But now you’re really going in that direction. You even crammed Sinners in here the other night.
Moody: Yeah. We had the Research Turtles here and they came in at about two in the afternoon and they took out every light bulb in this place and replaced them with black lights. Those guys are on, man. Because I’ve been a comedian gigging, and then also before that, a gigging musician, I know that not many acts come with a level of professionalism like the Research Turtles came with. They were here from two in the afternoon until showtime working on setting up and creating exactly what they wanted.
Morris: Well with you having that perspective, both as a musician and as a comic, there’s more to this story than “there’s a new owner of a local bar.” No, it’s a performer who owns the bar who is really putting a big emphasis on performance. Why do you think that it’s important that we have our performers themselves in the job of hiring other performers and putting that talent out there?
Moody: For the process of actually booking schedule-wise for musicians and then actually paying them, it’s just … I know how it goes and how to make it work. [I] try to keep it as smooth as possible and that way there’re no hang-ups. No “oh, I thought we were going to get the door” or “do we have a guarantee?” — anything like that. Everything’s hashed out in advance, because I know exactly the questions I would ask when booking a venue, so I just ask them those questions immediately.
Morris: In my booking background, it was always in black and white. It’s contractual and signed in triplicate if need be. But that is, simply, how you should do it. I know plenty of people who don’t want to play certain music venues because of precisely that ambiguity.
Moody: Yeah. See, I don’t like that. I don’t like the idea because, like I said, I did it. I hauled gear hundreds of miles for a couple hundred bucks, if that. I don’t like that concept. There are a lot of venues that don’t like to pay acts because they feel like the exposure is some kind of currency. [That’s a currency] that’s nonexistent. No, if somebody comes out and they perform, and they help you bring a crowd, then they’re performing a service and they get paid for that service. I’m not going to do something anywhere that with drive time could potentially be four or five hours and get up there and show a craft that I’ve been working on probably since I was child to a group of strangers for free. I mean, maybe when I was younger; I’m not doing it now and I don’t expect anybody else to.
Morris: So, who did you play with in your musical days?
Moody: I played with a couple of cover bands. One was called Crooks Carnival and then an original band, from the time I was probably 15 or so, called War Child. And then I did a few metal bands and then I was like, all right, well, it’s probably time to find something a little more tangible as far as the dream goes.
Morris: Was that when you went into comedy?
Moody: Well, I stopped playing music for about three years. I was always the guy in my group of friends that made everybody laugh. You know what they say: If you do stand-up, you’re always doing stand-up. But comedy was just something like, man, I enjoy this and I’m gonna go try it. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking. For the first, probably, year I was like, “Oh man, I’m going to drink all these beers before I go up there.” (Laughs.)
Morris: How long have you been doing comedy now?
Moody: Probably a year and a half. (Laughs.) So not that long. (Laughs.)
Morris: Well, comedy was what got me on this track because I saw that you have Jeff D coming in.
Moody: Oh, Jeff’s a great dude. Such a funny guy.
Morris: But for you as a venue to get guys like that … he’s from Lake Charles, lives in New Orleans and gigs all over the place …
Moody: Oh, he’s approaching the level of what you would consider a solid national act. A good friend of mine, Keez the Comic, hosts karaoke here and it’s the craziest. I’ve been to karaoke and I’ve never been like, “woah, this is fun.” When Keez does it, it’s fun. I mean, having a comic behind it, you know that’s exactly the dynamic that you’re not normally going to get from the karaoke host. But he and Jeff are really close, and he was like, “Hey, Jeff is looking for a place to do a show in town and I told him the Beagle.” And I said, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” And it was that kind of stuff that set the track, because like you said, this was not a venue. It was a dive bar. I mean it still is, and that’s why I like it, because I’m not a fan of big clubs. Maybe in New Orleans or something, you go into the club; there’s going to be like live entertainment, stuff like that. I like that aspect of it. But I want to bring it to a smaller dive, like this. I don’t want to go to a place where there’s a thousand people. But I also want to see a good band.
So, we moved the pool table and created this nook. Like on Monday’s, when we do comedy over there, the people who want to hear it are all right there, and over here you can barely hear it at all. It’s like background noise, so it works out really well. And then when Keez brought up Jeff D, it made me think that I really want to see someone with his kind of presentation; his kind of personality, that is so big. And I want to see it in this little space because if you’re over here, it’s hard not to pay attention because you’re right there. And that’s the same thing with musical acts. I try to make sure everybody gets paid and everything goes well, but I also have to have a standard of quality for my acts. I can’t devote an entire Friday night to a band that knows eight songs only “kind of.” And I can’t give you guaranteed pay unless I know you can hold the night. That’s where it’s kind off like, man. I feel like uncle Tom or something, saying “Look, you got to make us money, too.” But that’s business.
There’s also the thing, looking back in retrospect as a gigging musician myself, you as an artist should definitely focus on whether you can bring a crowd. [Is] that venue [going to make] more money with you being there? If not, then you should try to improve that aspect of who you are as an act and how you market your product. We’re going to allocate a budget to promotions and to all the social media stuff, but it shouldn’t be spending hundreds of dollars just to get 50 people. Right? That’s counterproductive and counterintuitive, too. It’s not a wise investment.
Morris: So you’ve been here, what, seven months now? What have you done on the entertainment front so far?
Moody: So, we’ve had Sinners, Kinky Vanilla, Quadraholics. We try to be eclectic. The only thing I haven’t had yet is a metal band; it might be a bit loud in this little space; I don’t know.
Ross Connor works with us. He’s awesome and he books a lot of out-of-town entertainment for us. Sometimes it’s just jam bands. But we’ve also had Iceman Special play here, Bear Gritty and Research Turtles. We’ve also had some comedians that are on the road come through.
This is the thing for me. I don’t want to go on a big rant about this. The reason why we’re doing this here is because I really like Lake Charles. There’s a weird thing with the people my age, a little younger, a little older … I constantly hear “There’s nothing to do in Lake Charles. Lake Charles is boring.” I’m like, “No, you’re boring, because you can’t find anything to do.” This is a city. There’s all kinds of things that you can do any day of the week. People say I want to go to Austin because they have “this.” Well, clearly there’s a market for it. Why wouldn’t you try to bring that here? I have no interest in going to a place that’s already established, like Austin or New Orleans, and then just being part of their scene, because Lake Charles is developing this culture. There are art walks, there are bands. You know, there’s great musical acts that come through here, great comedians. We are having beer festivals downtown … Lake Charles is growing culturally, and that’s something that I’m interested in being part of and that’s why we did this.
I really wanted to own a bar. I’ve been in the service industry for over a decade, and this is a craft that I’ve honed, so [I wondered] how can I use it? And then this opportunity came to be available. So we’re like, whoa, we’re all in.
I have two business partners and we run it together, and we’ve all been in restaurants and bars our whole adult working lives. We still are! (Laughs.) This isn’t our income, right now. I mean it’s doing really well, but we put most of the money back into the place — in new cameras, locks, all that stuff, because we want this to be that place; that little niche place where people may know all the places in town, but this is their regular watering hole.
Morris: That comfortable, familiar spot that has the Cheers thing. Everybody knows your name.
Morris: We’ve talked about what you have done here so far. What else do you want to do? What else is part of your grand vision for this place, and where do you want to go — both as that hometown local bar and as a venue?
Moody: First of all, we do have some projects to work on, like the floors. That’s next. Like I said, this was a dive bar and it’s an old building and suddenly you get a higher volume. The things that were just hanging on when you started, they go quick. So we’re doing the floors and [putting on] a little paint. But after that, I plan on continuing what we’re doing, but eventually trying to do bigger acts in here. Scarcity is what gives anything value. If there’s a band that everybody, everybody wants to see, but only 150 people can fit in here, then that’s going to be an awesome show.
Morris: You pack it; in fact you have people wanting to get in that can’t get in.
Moody: And that’s kind of cool from a demand standpoint. But the important part here is there’s going to be 150 people here who are never going to forget that. They’ll actually say one day, “Do you remember the time that this band from New York came and played the Regal Beagle?” and people are going to be like, “Get outta here.”
It’s right there. There’s no stage. You’re on ground level … eye level.
Morris: And you’ve got those low ceilings over there, so all that sound is on you.
Moody: Yeah, and that’s the only part that’s carpeted. So that’s something to kind of keep it from being too splashy over there. But that’s the only reason why I haven’t had the metal bands in here, because they just beat those cymbals, and I just don’t know if that little nook and the carpets are enough to keep it from just being too much. It would have to be for a very important night.
But our goal isn’t just this place. We have some other things in the works that are a little higher volume. But those are down the pipeline.
Morris: As in other locations?
Moody: Yes. It wouldn’t be a Regal Beagle. Similar atmosphere, just larger scale.
Morris: Do you have a timeline on that?
Moody: Optimistically, July.
Morris: Oh, wow. Really?
Moody: In reality … probably second week of July.
Morris: Do you have a location? Anything that you can talk about on that front yet?
Moody: Well, we’re trying to keep that a little hush-hush. I have a furniture shop, and I was just telling my helper, who is wanting to start his own business, that the most important thing you need to do is know what you’re doing before you get in there. Have your ideas on everything. Think of any detail that you can and plan it out because you don’t want to be in some place for three months paying rent with no revenue. We had an idea for this place. We scoped it out for a couple of weeks, so we could come in here and do what we wanted to do. That’s what we’re going to do with that place. Guess I got off track a little … (Laughs).
Morris: That’s quite all right. It wouldn’t be the first time a story has delivered more than expected. I was just going to write a piece about Luna Live closing, but when I interviewed Dave Evans, he told me they had a great expansion of Luna Bar and Grill on the way. That became much more a story about doubling the size of this downtown cornerstone than the closing of Luna Live. It was the expansion of business and a better understanding of the minds behind the people making these changes in our city.
Moody: I mean he’s been open since 2004, 2003, somewhere in there? He’s created a brand. Luna Live was successful … but Luna Bar and Grill? It’s very successful. It’s ridiculous. Just doubling the size of his dining room and kitchen capacity … that’s not just significant for downtown Lake Charles but for Lake Charles in general.
As far as Lake Charles culture goes, it’s starting downtown. That’s where it’s happening. [At one time, I couldn’t] name a franchise downtown besides Wendy’s and the banks. I like to see that local entrepreneurs are doing their things in town because that’s really what builds it.
I feel like probably over the last 10 years or so, Lake Charles has been in this cultural limbo. If you look at 10 years ago, you could go to Breezy’s and see bands playing all the time. And it just hasn’t been like that for a while. But downtown is where the culture in this town’s going to start, or continue, to grow from. And I feel like Dave Evans was one of the people that pulled us out of that. He’s maybe not a national treasure, but he’s certainly a Lake Charles treasure. (Laughs.)
Morris: And being a part of those kinds of things seems important to you in what you do here. It’s not even just about turning your coin. You want to be building and working on something bigger and something with more longevity than a dollar.
Moody: Yeah, and also being a part of … I mean, obviously we’re a bar. So, we’re not “part of the community” in the cleanest fashion. We’re not like some youth center, right? We are a bar. But to be part of your city and to have a cultural impact or, you know, just provide good entertainment and to be included in that cultural growth of Lake Charles, especially on the arts level [is important]. Like we said, we got the art walks now and the musical scene is getting better, and we can continue this. But it needs people who want to be part of that. It’s also a matter of giving them the capacity to do so.
But the question we all need to ask ourselves is how are you contributing to local revenue? Spending locally is not necessarily contributing to local revenue. A lot of that money is just going to go straight out of here. So if you want Lake Charles to get better, you have to commit. Support local. Go to the Cajun Gypsy Corner Market. Their energy drinks are the same price. But you go to Chevron, and then instead of eating at a locally owned place that’s affordable and reasonable, you go to Chili’s. And then you say there’s nothing to do in this town? It’s like, well, shut your mouth, because you’re not helping.
Morris: So, in your opinion, what can Lake Charles do to be better? What can business owners do better and what can the consumers do?
Moody: Business owners? Well, this goes back to that thing we’re talking about: people who like those things Austin or New Orleans has. If you know about it, there’s probably more people here that know about it. Put together a business plan; plan everything; and bring those things here. So, as far as business owners here in Lake Charles, we have to continue to keep up quality. Let’s keep everything good. Let’s push forward. Pay attention to developing trends, keep [things high-quality] and know what you’re doing. That’s the ticket. If I’m sitting here almost demanding culture evolve in Lake Charles, I have to be part of that. Especially if I’m on my soapbox saying we’ve got to make this better. I can’t just sit back and go like, “All right. Somebody make it better.” I’m part of that, and that’s a personal responsibility.
But if you look at the scheme of it, this is a community and it’s all our responsibility to make what we are doing that contributes to that better. Then that’ll help [with] that second part of your question, because there’s that saying that it’s not all just corporate billboards and “two for twenties” with everybody. People really are like, “No, let’s go to this place. It’s the only one in the world.” You’re not going to go to Amarillo, Texas, and hang out at a Regal Beagle like this with the same model. It’s not gonna happen. There’s probably other Regal Beagles out there — but this one? This is Lake Charles’.
And then also to the consumer — like you said, “Support Local.” There’s so much that happens in this town that you could tell people about and they have no idea. There’s also a ton of stuff that happens at the Civic Center, like Cyphacon. It’s Comic-Con for Lake Charles, so it’s a smaller scale. But that’s at least one Saturday there was something you could have done and done all day. If you get there and it’s not your cup of tea, there’ll eventually be something there that is …
Morris: If you’re into the monster trucks, they’ll be back.
Moody: Yeah, and then there’s the reptile expos and all these things. And that money that comes to the Civic Center stays in Lake Charles. And they just had the Louisiana Pirate Festival. I haven’t been to Contraband Days in years because it’s been “Miller Lite trash fest” and it just got out of hand. But since it’s kind of rebranding … it wasn’t as big as it used to be. There were some rides, stuff like that; but what they were doing in the Civic Center that weekend was definitely tied in with that and was definitely more about Lake Charles as opposed to who wants to go ride the Zipper and puke. (Laughs.) And that’s a good thing that’s happened. [There’s] the adults skate night at Skate City, and it’s another Saturday that there’s something to do in Lake Charles. It’s incredibly friendly, very few vagrants, cost of living is extremely affordable and it’s growing. That was another reason we kind of lean more towards this area and downtown — stuff like that.
Lake Charles has a lot of growth happening. Is the majority of it sustainable? I would say, no. I say the growth that’s happening like grassroots stuff, like downtown [is sustainable]. But all these construction workers that are going to Sasol and stuff like that, [whenever] that job is done … there’s going to be 10, 15,000 people leaving, just like that. You’re going to see hotels that are just eyesores and were a quick cash grab, but didn’t bring anything to Lake Charles long-term except for another empty building.
Morris: Let’s talk about your future and what you’ve got in store. What’s coming up now? I know you’ve had a theater thing and you’ve got Jeff D [who performed at the beginning of June].
Moody: Yeah. A hilarious comedian. He’s from here, but lives in New Orleans. He really is just one of the funniest guys out there. After that, I think at some point we’ll have Kinky Vanilla and Bear Gritty. I don’t know if any of the Lagniappe readers know who Bear is. This is a guy that dresses like a bear and he raps. He does hip hop that’s incredibly intelligent, and kind of pokes fun [at] the cash grab of the hip hop culture while doing it from a bear’s perspective. I was like, “How did you think of this, man?” “Man, it just came to me.” (Laughs.) That was a good enough answer for me.
Morris: But you have a theater thing that’s just wrapping up. That is certainly something that’s very different than any other venue has done here. If you want to see theater, it’s usually McNeese or Little Theater …
Moody: I can’t think of a bar or venue in town that’s done theater, but they approached us and they’re like, hey, this play is a little more gritty. I think it’s called My First Time, and the group is called Black Market Theater. They wanted [the play] to be set in a bar. It gets a bunch of people telling about the time that they lost their virginity, so it’s definitely adult themed. But also, a smaller bar kind of adds to the atmosphere. They built a little stage. They brought in some poles and lights. Hopefully these people want to come back with a different play. That would be awesome.
Going forward, pretty much our goal is that once we get into June and July, we’re going to really ramp it up on live music. People are out of school. I don’t have to close until 2 on Saturdays and can’t be open on Sundays. But other than that, we can be open 24 hours if we want.
We have a couple of days we want to do just a whole day of music — not every weekend, because that’s how you get burnout. We’ll put together … mini dive-bar festivals. We’ll have anywhere from six to ten bands play from three in the afternoon to close. We’ll continue to do comedy on Monday nights and continue to do national touring comedians, because, for me, that’s important. We’re not just about local artists. I know I just said, “Support Local,” and I mean that. But if all you book is local artists, the talent pool here will never get better. They won’t see a band from New Orleans and see how they put on a show and gather some ideas on how they can improve themselves. Or with comedians, you won’t see how you can control timing and a crowd with just the cadence of how you talk. Local guys only get so much of that here. So our goal for the summer is to continue to book quality acts from out of town and locally.
Morris: Any final thoughts on the Beagle today and tomorrow or anything else?
Moody: [My] closing statement [is] about the fact that if you want the city to be better, we’ve all got to chip in on that. Also, um … don’t lock the men’s room when you go [to the Regal Beagle]. It’s a double banger. Unless you’re pooping, don’t lock the door. It gets sketchy when I have to ask, “Why are there four of ya’ll in there?” This happens! I remember one night I was in a little bar in Sulphur and I walked in the bathroom and there were like four dudes in there holding up their key bumps. And I was like, “I’m just gonna use the other one.” I didn’t know this happened here. I thought these were video poker players over here …
Well, I guess it is true. If you do stand-up, you’re always doing stand-up.