The story of Edward Grant
He cut his teeth as a caddy and worked his way up to become everyone’s favorite bartender at Idle Hour Country Club. Edward Grant, Sr., had a knack for connecting with club patrons. He knew their preferences, quirks, and like any good bartender, when to lend an ear and when to offer advice. He carved a career out of it, booking additional bartending gigs at private parties and local lounges like the Barrel House in the former Ambassador Inn. Where there was Grant, it was known there would be good times, and he was so good at it, he often had his own following.
“Dad had a way with people — everybody from people on the street to some of your most well-known politicians, city officials, doctors and business executives. He related to all of them,” says his son Edward Grant, Jr., who carries an uncanny resemblance to his late father.
Grant Jr.’s older sister Cheryl Grant Louder is said to have inherited her dad’s personality. Almost “Irish twins,” Grant Jr. and Louder were born exactly one year apart. With shared birthdays and bloodlines, the siblings have a vested interest in continuing their father’s legacy. And today, as business partners, they are in this together.
“Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can…”Allman Brothers Band, “Ramblin’ Man”
It can’t be easy to fill the shoes of a man who touched so many from the other side of the bar. Grant Sr. didn’t just deal drinks and armchair psychology; he was an acute Macon businessman ahead of his time. Rosa Lee Grant, mother to Louder, Grant Jr. and younger sister Gaynell Grant Johnson, still resides at the family homestead on Boone Street. In the backyard are remnants of a basketball court where the family’s entrepreneurial spirit awoke. “I was still in grammar school,” recalls Grant Jr. “I thought it was for the neighborhood kids to come over and play ball. It was, but [my father] also put a Coke machine out there, and we sold cookies and candy out of our basement.”
Louder shakes her head and laughs as her brother recounts the memory. “We were never too young to go to work,” she says. In addition to his regular bartending work, in the late 1960s, Grant Sr. signed on to manage James Brown’s Gold Platter, a restaurant venture of the late soul singer with two locations, both in Macon.
“He had free labor,” Grant Jr. says with a smile, stealing a side glance at his sister, “because he put the whole family to work. His numbers were outstanding, and people wondered how he pulled it off.” Although James Brown’s foray into the restaurant business didn’t last long, Grant Sr.’s knack for the hospitality industry was just getting started. “Everyone was trying to get him to run their business,” says Grant Jr. “Not just the people at the Barrel House, but the members at Idle Hour, too… After James Brown’s Gold Platter, he realized he could run his own business. So he gathered the family in the living room and told us that’s what he was going to do.” “He told us we were going to tighten our belts,” adds Louder.
“I’m gonna’ find me a hole in the wall…”Marshall Tucker Band, “Can’t You See”
In February 1971, 576 Poplar Street became home to Grant’s Lounge. Almost instantly, the bar was well-received. “I have my own philosophy on it,” says Grant Jr. “You had Idle Hour Country Club where all of North Macon with money went, but their kids didn’t want to go there. They wanted to go somewhere else, and a lot of them followed dad to the Barrel House. And so when he opened this place, they followed him here.”
And that’s what made Grant’s Lounge an anomaly from the beginning. An African American-owned business in a community still quaking from segregation, Grant’s Lounge was being frequented by a largely white audience.
Louder begged her parents to let her go to work for the family business. Her father finally consented on the condition she finish school. At 21, she went to work behind the bar, where her brother already had a job washing glasses and assisting with the clean-up.
When he was not working at the lounge, Grant Jr. was on the road, himself a musician playing keyboards with a nine-piece R&B group known as the Planets. “I didn’t want to be behind the bar, I wanted to be up there playing,” Grant Jr. admits. His group eventually went on tour with Joe Simon, around the same time his father’s business had become a seen-and-be-heard launch pad for some of the most legendary music to ever rise from the South.
“Mister, take us to the show. I done made some plans for later on tonight…”Lynyrd Skynyrd,
“What’s Your Name?”
It was a place where Tom Petty played and nobody knew who he was. Grant Sr. had a good thing going, but when Capricorn Records President Phil Walden started bringing in bands to try their chops on the small stage, Grant’s Lounge reached a whole new level. “We had the Allman Brothers on stage playing and Marshall Tucker,” says Grant Jr. “People’s expectations went up considerably. That’s what people were coming here to hear.”
It wasn’t just Capricorn’s stable of artists, such as Wet Willie, Eric Quincy Tate and Bonnie Bramlett, who could be heard rocking the downtown lounge. Artists like Petty were coming to Grant’s in hopes of being discovered. Maconites were being spoiled with performances by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws, Charlie Daniels, blues legend Eddie Kirkland and even an incognito Eric Clapton. When patrons walked through the door, they sometimes never knew who might take the mic, but they were almost guaranteed the performers would leave their mark on what had become an acclaimed venue. And in the true fashion with the power of good music, people were coming together. Grant’s Lounge was no longer catering to country club kids, its walls swelled with people from all different walks of life, hairstyles, color, profession and artistry. Grant Sr. had achieved what few club owners in the South had been able to do — he didn’t run a “black nightclub” or a “white nightclub,” he ran a place for everyone.
“…Rollin’ with the changes ‘til the sun comes out again.”Wet Willie, “Keep on Smilin”
It couldn’t last forever. The height of Grant’s Lounge paralleled the success of Capricorn Records. When the record label began to struggle and eventually fold in the late 1970s, it almost took Grant’s with it. Many blame disco for the demise of southern rock. But for Grant’s Lounge, it was the club’s saving grace. Grant Jr. remained on the road with Joe Simon through the end of the decade. When he came home, he brought a big city concept with him. “I had seen disco in Chicago,” he recalls. “I started trying to convince daddy that he needed to put in a disco system because he was really struggling trying to pay for the caliber of bands that people came to hear.” At first, Grant Sr. resisted. After all, the club already had a jukebox — why invest in a sound system to play what a coin slot could accomplish? But the writing was on the wall in the form of Saturday Night Fever. Music had changed, and if Grant’s Lounge was to survive, it had to accept the evolution.
What had been labeled the “birthplace of southern rock” became a discotheque complete with light show. Live music wasn’t entirely obsolete — revelers could go upstairs and take-in performances by jazz bands. By 1980, Grant Jr. also made the decision to adapt to the times. Although he attended Morris Brown College as a music major, he found a second career in the financial services industry. After going to work as a financial planner for the A.L. Williams Company, Grant Jr. had a 16-year career working his way up to regional vice president before he initiated and incorporated his own financial services firm. Louder also sought out a change. In 1982, she opened a highly-successful homestyle cooking restaurant called Cheryl’s, located on Second Street, across from her father’s business. “The food was excellent,” her brother reminisces. “The biggest complaint was that there would so many people trying to eat there, it was hard to get in and out during lunch hour.”
Unlike many of Macon’s downtown businesses who didn’t survive the dawn of the eighties, Grant’s Lounge has never closed its doors. Or change owners. Even a bought with cancer couldn’t force Edward Grant Sr. into retirement. However, in 1990, Louder closed her restaurant and return to Grant’s so she could look after the business and her father. During this time, Grant Jr. opened the first location of Fast Cash, his cash exchange and mobile check-cashing service business, into the former space of his sister’s restaurant.
But even with the family’s commitment to keep Grant’s going, it didn’t mean the club was out of danger. At one point the entire Poplar Street block it occupied was owned by out-of-town investors, looking to make a sale from the entire block. Closing was not an option, but re-location was considered. “You just didn’t know what the next day would be,” says Grant Jr. “And when you are on a 30-day lease and that’s your livelihood, you don’t just sit around and hope they are going to let you stay.”
The family spent several years looking for a back-up plan. In 2001, they purchased the Riverview Ballroom and adjacent Riverview Hotel on Walnut Street. Instead of re-locating Grant’s Lounge, the family now found themselves in the midst of building and operating additional businesses. For Grant Sr., it was coming full-circle. He had been a waiter at the Town Pavilion, the topnotch fine dining restaurant once located on the hotel’s penthouse floor. Now he was bringing its building back to life.
“It’s up to you and me brother to try and try again.”Allman Brothers Band,
“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”
The ballroom was the family’s first order of business. Once an S&S cafeteria, the building sat vacant for almost 15 years, and the Grants were now faced with addressing severe structural issues before opening its doors again. But once it did open a year after the Grants purchased and renovated it, the Riverview Ballroom became Macon’s latest special event facility. Work also began on the 100 rooms. Grant Sr. did not get to see the completion of the work he and his family were putting into place. One of Grant Jr. and Louder’s last memories of their father was in the ballroom, where he came in and took a seat. “I’m alright,” Louder recalls him saying. “I am satisfied with Grant’s, and I am satisfied with the Riverview.” A week later, on March 17, 2005, at the age of 76, Edward Grant Sr. passed away. By now, Grant Jr. had another location of his Fast Cash business. In addition to managing Grant’s Lounge and the Riverview, Louder also took tax preparation courses to assist her brother with his business. The siblings also stayed determine to continue CEE Enterprises, the partnership they formed with their father upon the purchase of the hotel. The siblings remain inseparable. Neither can recall a fight between them — minus the occasional little brother hijinks while growing up. Louder can often be found at the Riverview Ballroom, making sure things are in order for the next facility rental. She keeps one of the refrigerators stocked with her famous home-cooking. At the end of a work day, her brother can usually find a plate of food waiting for him at the bar. The siblings have a way of looking after each other — and quickly crediting the other one for their own success. “I think it is a natural trust as brother and sister that makes us good business partners,” Cheryl says.
Their plan is to continue to operate Grant’s Lounge, in addition to the Riverview Ballroom as a special events facility and the Riverview Hotel as an economy hotel. However, they have also established plans for the hotel to be converted into upscale apartments, with a targeted completion in 2011. Both siblings are at work on the family ventures daily. Grant Jr. credits their fathertaught business approach to their lasting success. “You’ve got a lot of people doing things downtown, but you don’t have a lot of business owners who are hands-on. I think that has been one of our advantages,” he says. “Not only did we acquire the property, but we are able to run it on a day-to-day basis. When a person walks in, they see our face… That’s part of our commitment we made to downtown.”
While Louder is more behind-the-scenes, Grant Jr. has stepped to the forefront of the Macon’s business community. As a past chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, Grant Jr. is pleased to see the longterm planning he was a part of come into play with the arrival of Bass Pro, Sara Lee, Nichiha and Macon’s other new industries. “I really became infatuated with economic development,” he says. “So, I spent two terms with the Industrial Authority. After spending 10 years with them, I wanted to bring that knowledge to downtown, and the Urban Development Authority was the best vehicle for me to use to do that.” Grant Jr.’ appointment with the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority began in March 2007.
Both Louder and Grant Jr. remain downtown believers. Grant Jr. recalls recently living at the hotel while renovations were being made on his home. He spent his mornings and evenings strolling the sidewalks and frequenting other downtown businesses. “I had the experience of what downtown living is all about… It’s just a different feel, and I loved it. I think the key to downtown’s success is for us to change our paradigm. I think people have a real false vision that downtown isn’t safe. We’ve got to get over that.”
“Thanks for the memories… More than one million people have passed through these doors. Again… Thanks for the memories.”Edward N. Grant, Sr.
There are times at Grant’s Lounge when Louder will still stumble across an item that belonged to her father. Sometimes, she says, it’s like he never left. “You see him everywhere and in everything we do,” she says. “I see a lot of things he tried to teach us then, happening now,” says her brother. There is buzz of bringing live music back to Grant’s Lounge. On February 20, Grant’s hosted a sold-out crowd in celebration of its 37th anniversary. Once again, people from all backgrounds came to the front of its humble stage. Revelers reminisced the glory days, found amongst the memorabilia lining Grant’s “Wall of Fame.” The bartenders never took a break. Live music spilled out the doors onto the sidewalk. And Grant Jr. and Louder could be seen smiling as their history continued.
Thanks to Jessica Walden • Photography by Ken Krakow