Mickie Spencer, a certified welder and largely self-taught student of interior and industrial design, struggled for years for her first big break as a designer. Though eager to create a showroom where she could showcase her work, she realized it wasn't financially feasible to open a gallery space or store. But Spencer's life as a "starving artist" had provided her with plenty of experience working in restaurants and bars. So she decided to open her own bar in which she could display her talents as a designer.
Spencer, a former resident of Brooklyn and Barcelona, rented a space on Austin's eastside that had housed both a bike shop and a Mexican wedding and quinceañera dress shop. With the help of her mother and co-owner Trudy Spencer, and identical twin sister Mindie, Spencer gutted and renovated the inside of the building, welding the bar and furniture, designing and building all the lighting and the color scheme, a combination of amber, red and green reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic French film Delicatessen.
The resulting bar/restaurant, the East Side Show Room, looks like an elegant ballroom bombed out during World War II, largely but not entirely restored. The chandeliers and art nouveau chairs contrast with the cement floors and exposed brick walls, creating a delicate play between the raw industrial and the elegant.
The East Side Show Room, with its signature cocktails based on prohibition era-drinks, seasonal locally farmed menu and music provided by an eclectic variety of local bands playing everything from jazz to Yiddish music, was an immediate success. And it provided the break that Spencer had been hoping for.
She soon joined with the owners of the popular dance club Barbarella, to create the downtown club Swan Dive. Spencer designed and executed the club's interior, and as a result was made a part owner of the business. "My investment was sweat equity, concept and design," Spencer said.
Spencer created the Swan Dive's interior all in white, with hues of gray, to give patrons a sense of being in an overexposed black and white film. The last Sunday of every month, the Swan Dive hosts a party called "Vintage Vivant," a celebration of jazz-age culture touted as "a night for glamourous anachronists to dance, drink, and delight at the bevy of 1920s-and-30s-themed entertainment." The event includes vintage cocktails, burlesque, dance lessons, and bands playing hot jazz. But the patrons' elaborate vintage and vintage-inspired costumes, hair and makeup are what make the party extraordinary.
Spencer, pale and slender with a black bob and bangs and clothing that tends toward 1920's styles, seems as if she could herself could have stepped out of a silent film. But she's a woman with both a voice and inspired ideas for creating establishments in Austin that rival Brooklyn in style and chic. "I miss Brooklyn a little bit," Spencer said. "I want Austin to catch up a little bit. That's why I keep opening new spaces."
Spencer's current design project -- The Hillside Farmacy -- involves renovating a building that in the 1950s housed the Hillside Drugstore. For the project's interior, Spencer purchased the cabinetry and display cases from a 1920s pharmacy that had remained intact in its original location in a brick building on Main Street in Elgin, Texas. "Along with all the cabinetry, we got almost 100-year-old medicine in its original bottles and boxes; the pharmacist's mortar and pestles, even cast iron paper rolls for wrapping things," Spencer said. "The beautiful natural green patina on the cabinetry is too perfect to paint and is the main focus of the Farmacy's color scheme."
The new incarnation of the Hillside Farmacy will be a sidewalk café, deli and grocery store providing products from local farms, along with a wine room and full bar, all elegantly laid out according to Spencer's vision.
But Spencer realizes that the concept she and her four co-owners have of the Hillside Farmacy will evolve as soon as the business opens. "Once you open it's no longer your idea anymore," Spencer said with a smile. "It's like nursing a baby and all of a sudden they are a teenager immediately. I have a feeling there will be a lot of changes."
Visit Mary's Website here.