A nun, a homosexual and the Holy Ghost walk into a bar… This isn’t a joke, but there are plenty of punchlines, most of which are already plastered across Grant Henry’s Sister Louisa paintings. With messages of hope (and blasphemy), Grant has been spreading the love of Sister Louisa through Atlanta for the better part of a decade. This fall he’s taking the next step in spreading the good news and opening the doors of Atlanta’s newest “Church”.
In early September, Danneman’s coffee shop in the Old 4th Ward closed for “renovations”. News soon leaked that Grant was moving Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium out of his Telephone Factory Loft and into the coveted location at the corner of Edgewood Ave. and Boulevard. The Heavens rejoiced.
Anyone who has ever bellied up to a bar at which Grant Henry was tending already has an idea of what’s in store. With Sister Louisa’s “Hell Is Hot” match books always free for the taking, accompanied by Grant’s racy dialogue that entertains past last call, you get the overall feeling that you’re part of the flock. Prepare yourself to be led into the Promise Land of debauchery.
Centered in the Edgewood Corridor, Sister Louisa’s “Church” will usher in a “revival”– for Atlanta’s nightlife it means “salvation”, but for Grant Henry, it’s just the next step in being “born again”.
Purge: You’ve been bar tending at The Local for a long time. At what point did you decide that you wanted to open your own place?
Grant Henry: A long time ago, maybe five years ago. I looked at what is now TOP FLR. At the time, it was a skinny building. It was going to be called “Grant’s Tiny Bar”. It was going to be one bar tender, but someone pulled the trigger (on signing a lease) before we did. I also always joked about doing a religious themed gay bar called “Glory Hole”.
You know the thing is, I’ve been collecting Sister Louisa kind of art for 15 years. I’m realizing now that I’ve been building this bar for 15 years. I don’t have to do anything, I have lighting, decor and furniture. People have also been coming out of the wood work to help.
Purge: You had a great gig at The Local. What’s been your motivation to open up “Church”?
Grant Henry: I love being around people. I love the fucking Local. I didn’t leave because I didn’t like it. My friend Michael (Who also is one of the owners of the Vortex) told me that I could take my art to a different level. We had a lot of those kind of conversations. So now my art is going to be in this place and not in a gallery in my loft where only 30 people a month see it.
Purge: So the concept that you’re working with is a coffee shop in the morning, lunch and dinner during the day and a bar at night. That’s a lot of ground to cover. How are you going to do it?
Grant Henry: I’m a whore, so I’m going to be having different people doing different things. Home Grown is doing the food. Susan Hills from Old 4th Ward Pie Company is going to be a guest barista, and we’re going to sell her pies. I made a deal with Java Vino. I told them I’ll do your coffee if I can have my own blends that you sell in your other stores and Whole Foods. The line is going to be called Sister Louisa’s Rosary Beans. It’s like everybody is helping everybody. For me, that’s what it’s all about: sharing shit.
It’s going to be cheap too. It’s going to be like The Local. It’s going to be a destination. We’re going to be cheaper than everybody else, but what’s going to be different (from The Local) is that it’s going to be fucked up. It’s going to be like the Vortex meets church, Sister Louisa’s Church!
Purge: Along with the Sister Louisa artwork that we all love, what other church themed decor are we going to see?
Grant Henry: Well, the menu is going to be an old fashioned church bulletin. There’s also going to be a Ten Commandments of “Church” with Sister Louisa’s spin on it. We’re going to do mini-shots in communion glasses. I’m going to do merchandising through the company that does all of the Vortex’s hats and shirts. There’s going to be “Fuck Fear” shot glasses that you can buy too.
The biggest one expense is a confessional. I’ve been looking at that primitive Yugoslavian Confessional at Kudzu Antiques since the early 90’s. It was so expensive, I remember thinking “what fucking fool would pay THAT for THAT”? Well, the wheel is round. It came back to me. I had no choice. I was warned not to get it. Someone suggested that I copy it cheaper, but the damn thing is an institution in itself.
The Confessional will act as a reminder that Easter can happen in everyone’s life– even in a damn bar. Especially, one where you can take a piece of it home with you in the form of a strip of pictures. Plus, if the Popcorn Machine fits in the other side, it’ll double as a concessional. Who else has a Confessional Concessional from the 1800′s? Between The Confessional Photo-Booth and Church Organ Karaoke, good times are sure to be had.
People need levity in their lives, and it’s freeing to dis-empower painful images and transform them into positive, lighthearted experiences.
Purge: With “Church” having such a blasphemous decor and being a place that’s going to be “fucked up”, do you worry about any kind of backlash from the neighborhood or anyone else?
Grant Henry: Some people don’t get it. Hollis (Gillespie) wrote about me for so long that I learned that it doesn’t matter what anybody says. Whether they talk about Sister Louisa’s “Church” in a good or bad way, it has the same effect, and I don’t care. I’ll still play with the same themes of sexuality, religion and politics. I’m not going to hold back at all. It’ll be 18 and up, so kids can’t come in since there’s going to be “fuck” on the walls.
When I get through with it, I’m going to sign the side of the building as a Sister Louisa piece of art. I’m going to do with the bar the same thing that I try to do with my art. Whoever looks at it, they’re the ones who figure out what it means to them. I’m not trying to make it mean anything. I’m just throwing everything out there and so everyone can think about it. I don’t have an agenda for anybody.
Purge: There’s a recession going on, you’re in your 50’s and you have a stable income– why take the risk to open up “Church” now?
Grant Henry: I’m doing what I want to do somewhere that I want to do it. I’m going to make ass-loads of money, but that’s not why I’m doing it. My entire life has pointed me here: working in hotels and restaurants, going to seminary, making artwork and Hollis writing all that bullshit about me over the years. Along with the positive experience I had at The Local, combined with missing everyone at The Local and Michael wanting to do this with my Church concept, I know everyone is really going to like it.
Sister Louisa’s Church of The Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium
466 Edgewood Avenue
Atlanta GA, 30312
Photo Credit: Christy Parry