Aside from downtown Salt Lake City, there’s probably not a cooler part of town than Sugar House. At different times in the city’s history, you could go to Anzio’s novelty shop and buy fake dog poop, be sandblasted with death metal at the Heavy Metal Shop, or punk at Raunch Records. You could shop for vinyl at the Record Collector, stare in the window of the Phrenology (fortune telling via the lumps on your head) place, find weird coinage at All About Coins, scope the adult room at the Blue Boutique, eat at the Soup Kitchen, see a cheap movie at Cinemark, lunch at BlueKats, or try to get the ‘heads at Wizards & Dreams to accidentally say “bong” instead of “water pipe.”
It wasn’t just the retail side that made it cool. There was something else—an intangible quality that made just being in Sugar House feel good. It’s difficult to put a name to it, but many people feel the same way.
“I love Sugar House and always have,” says Hyrum Summerhays, manager of Sugarbeats, a relatively new all-ages concert venue sandwiched between Orion’s Music and Sugar House Coffee. Summerhays, a “bastard nephew” of the Summerhays Music and golfer folks, grew up in Sandy. When he got his driver license, he started spending a lot of time in Sugar House or downtown at coffee shops and music stores.
When Orion’s Music moved from 9th & 9th to 1100 East in Sugar House, the mom-and-pop record store brought with it a semi-tradition of hosting live local music. Two doors away Sugar House Coffee had also hosted some jazz and folk. The space between the two shops was empty; Orion’s and Sugar House Coffee jointly decided they’d like to use it as a concert venue, something Sugar House had lacked. They enlisted Summerhays, a local musician (Elsewhere, Mona) and indie label owner (Eden’s Watchtower Records) to run the place and named it for the bumper crops of sweet beets that used to grow in old Sugar House.
“We realized that there would not be much financial gain, if any, in the endeavor,” Summerhays says. “And it just kind of worked out that I was the only one willing to consistently work on keeping the place booked with local and touring music.”
In the six or seven months Sugarbeats has been open, they’ve hosted an array of local and national talent—mostly of the indie-rock/pop variety, but with some deviation (full schedule available at Sugarbeats.net). Past shows have seen local experimentalist rockers Smashy Smashy, alt-country darlings the Drive-By Truckers, local funk-folkies Mary Tebbs & Lisa Marie, and Barsuk recording artists Aqueduct rock (or sway) Sugarbeats’ stage. Sugarbeats even hosted the first all-ages Showdown to South bty Southwest preliminaries in January—which proved to be the best-attended event to date.
Attendance has been spotty as Sugarbeats gains its footing. Summerhays estimates an average crowd of 20, which is actually not too shabby for a smallish venue that might even hold less than the comparable venue Kilby Court. “We have a lot of really slow nights with only four or five paid,” he admits, “but things are starting to get better. If we can get to an average of 30 to 50 people on Thursday through Saturday nights, I would consider it a great success.”
For now, it’s just cool to have live music in Sugar House. Walking along the west side of 1100 East past newer shops like The Space Room and Haight and hearing the sounds of local rockers Patsy, OH coming from Sugarbeats just feels right. It’s as if the intangible quality finally has a voice. Of course, with urban sprawl encroaching—as close as the east side of the street—one has to wonder if something this good can endure. Summerhays says the generosity of Orion’s and Sugar House Coffee, who pay rent on Sugarbeats in order to keep the overhead low, will help. The rest depends on whether the public is down with the concept.
“The idea is to create a situation where local people realize they have a great place to watch and play music,” says Summerhays. “Then hopefully, they start hanging out consistently and maybe grab a coffee or CD before the show. So far, it’s going pretty well.”