Urban and RYE: An Intimate Mixture of Music and Local Eats
The restaurant is narrow and deep. The layout draws you in as wall-hugging, handmade-looking tables and booths lead you to the way, way back, which houses a cocktail bar and open kitchen. Industrial and retro light fixtures hang from the rafters where a hidden PA system projects a Tears for Fears track. This is RYE Diner & Drinks, the inventive eatery portion of a low-slung, charcoal-colored building, on the fringe of downtown Salt Lake City, also home to The Urban Lounge — a music venue known to most as simply Urban. More on that in a bit.
I grab a table underneath a bright skylight where my server, Ryan, greets me with a smile and casual, “What’s up, man?” Tattoos peek out of his baseball T-shirt near his wrists as he hands me a menu. I quickly scan my drink options and order a pint of one of my local staples, a Chasing Tail Golden Ale from Squatters Brewery. RYE describes its fare as classic American favorites with a modern, Asian-fusion twist. We’re talking tofu scramble, steak and eggs, Peking duck bowl, coconut quinoa and several other dishes that call to mind the word “hipster.” My eyes lock on the waffle and whiskey with house potatoes and I dutifully add a basted egg and pork belly.
I’ve come for the waffle and whiskey and stay for conversation with venue owners Will Sartain and Lance Saunders.
Over the textured aromas of the whiskey-infused maple syrup and savory pork belly, I ask Will and Lance about the making of RYE. Lance was the self-assigned foreman of the endeavor, hiring other hands from a pool of local musicians with construction experience. “When we moved in here we ripped everything out, leaving only four walls and a ceiling and a floor,” Lance says. “We built everything by hand … I was here building for maybe six months. 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. some nights.”
The reason for all the work? “We thought it would be nice to incorporate RYE for the people that go to Urban and the entertainers that play at Urban,” Lance adds.
Indeed, RYE and Urban are intimate both in proximity and mutual involvement. In one of the several framed paintings hanging on the wall that divides the two spaces, a discrete television monitor hides behind a white canvas. Later this evening, the canvas will be slid up to reveal a live-feed from the show next door.
I finish my meal and discuss upcoming events with Ryan. Diners at RYE can score free tickets on Tuesday nights to certain shows at The Urban Lounge alongside their entrée. I take advantage of the opportunity and nab a ticket.
The night of the show my partner Alexandra and I are walking the boutique shops along Broadway in downtown Salt Lake City. We check the time and realize the doors are open at Urban, so we grab two bicycles from a GREENbike bikeshare station and ride east up 200 South. Behind us, the sun is setting and casting a pink light over the Wasatch Mountains. As we bike, I breathe in the scent of warm asphalt interspersed with wafts of perennials from the concrete planters along the bike path.
We park our rentals at a GREENbike station located at a bar across the street and walk into Urban. The venue is dark and my eye is immediately drawn to the low-rise stage lit up by blue can-lights, then shifts to the dimly lit bar in the corner. Portraits of Utah Jazz basketball legends Karl Malone and John Stockton watch over me as I’m drawn once again to Squatter’s Chasing Tail.
We find a seat at one of the few tables on the periphery of the wood floor in front of the stage. There’s minimal seating; this is a venue where concert-goers get up close and on their feet.
During our brunch, I had asked Will and Lance about Urban’s philosophy. Both pointed to the successful “blank canvas” approach of the 10,000-square-foot space. The venue’s eclectic range of music talent — both in notoriety and genre — highlights one of its notable qualities. You might catch a national touring act like Father John Misty on a Monday night and come back tomorrow for a hip-hop showcase comprised of local artists. Tonight’s bands include an assortment of rock-derivative, local talent: Cat Ghost, SELFMYTH, Peach Dream and Officer Jenny.
All of the performances are enjoyable for their own reasons, but Peach Dream, the glitter-punk outfit hailing from Provo, stands out for me. Their all-female ensemble grins ear-to-ear as they soundcheck (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) with Blink-182’s “Dammit.” Playing on baby-blue Fender Squires and Orange practice amps, Peach Dream’s power chords, 4/4 progressions and one-string melodies makes for a head-bobbing good time. Tonight is the Utah band’s debut at The Urban Lounge. The crowd loves it. They bring an infectious enthusiasm to the stage, a garage band aesthetic that can’t be faked or imitated.
As I watch, I am reminded of something Lance said: “The Urban Lounge is all about providing people of Salt Lake a vast array of different performances … you never know when you’re going to get blown away … ”