- Paul F. P. Pogue
- Rob Ondrish (left) and Dave Brown outside the Melody Inn.
All you really need to know about the long history of the community hub known as the Melody Inn can be summed up by a couple of photos someone recently showed to owners Dave Brown and Rob Ondrish.
"We had a guy come in from a local band recently who had told his grandfather he was going to play the Mel," Brown says. "It turns out his grandpa used to mop the floors back in the 1940s, so he gave him some photos from that time. Turns out it was a real swanky joint back then!"
The punchline may be that the Mel is now your classic hole-in-the-wall, but the most fascinating thing about the photos of a brand-spankin'-new speakeasy with immaculately laid out tables and metalwork is what hasn't changed. The floor is the same, as is the tile, the distinctive big mirror in the back - even the metalwork.
In that time it's gone through only six owners. Ten years ago this week, Brown and Ondrish took over with a month's rent paid, eleven bucks in the till and no clue if their new venture would live past the first thirty days. Things seem to have turned out okay.
"Ten years is a lifetime in the bar business," Ondrish says.
They're pulling out all the metaphorical stops to commemorate the event, with a five-day concert series covering everything from original rock to DJs to punk rock, with long slate of performers every night.
"We wanted to really support local live musicians, and as it turns out, a lot more places are doing that now than there were 10 years ago," Brown says. "It's kind of neat to hear when people tell us they came here and used the Melody Inn as a template for their own approach to live music."
"We've always tried to treat the bands really well, but to be honest, we didn't even know we were treating that well," Ondrish says. "We were just being decent. But a lot of these places out there, you hear stories of shady bar guys, never getting paid, gear getting stolen. We've always taken the road bands very seriously."
The Mel's diverse crowd comes from all walks of life - everything from the Punk Rock Night gang that's been in place from the beginning of the Brown/Ondrish era, to businessmen dropping by, to old couples who remember courting each other and falling in love here decades ago.
"This place has always defied categorization; you can some in here and see any kind of people," Ondrish says. "We're in a situation where people from a lot of scenes can feel comfortable calling this place home. It cross-pollinates; we'll have kids who come in on electronic night who end up coming by for Punk Rock Night. We do all kinds of music all the time. If you like music of any sort and you're not a snob, you'll be able to have a good time."
That very sense of family has contributed to the stability of the place after all these years, and helps maintain order even when more than 100 punks fill the place on a Saturday night, spread out over two different rooms and an outdoor beer garden.
"People look out for this bar and each other, and that's really amazing," Brown says. "They respect the place and the atmosphere. If someone's acting stupid, we can say to their buddy, 'Hey, your bud is being a real jerk.' If you can't get your shit together here of all places, there's no hope for you!"
Ondrish's fiance Nikol Prieto is assembling a video of longtime fans sharing their own memories of the place. "I'm amazed at how many hookups and marriages we've gotten over the years!" she says. "So many people feel like this place is home to them."
"People don't just wander in; this is a destination," Brown says. "People know why they're coming here, which helps weed out a lot of bad people. It's a family vibe around here."
"I guarantee we have less bar fights than anywhere in Broad Ripple," Ondrish adds. "When someone comes out here that's an asshole, they stand out like a sore thumb."
For their own part, Ondrish and Brown say they're happy for everyone who's helped bring the bar to this point.
"We're thankful for all the bands that have played here, all the promoters, all the DJs and all the fans that have come out to support it," Brown says. "We wouldn't be here without the help of all those people. We always hope people will continue to come and support the bands we have on tour, even if they've never heard of them before. We're so often amazed by an underground band we've never heard of. You may just be blown away."
Click here for full details on "The Melebration," the Melody's 10-year-anniversary extravaganza.