Two and half years ago, Brandon Nikola, an underground house show promoter and musician, heard of an opportunity to run the bar and events at the Habesha Lounge.
"I needed a spot for a show because we were having too many and our neighbors were gonna kill us", Nikola recalls. He became Habesha himself, the sole employee, producing hundreds of shows while acting as the bartender, booker, sound tech and janitor. A year and a half ago, Anthony Lusk came on board as well, in a role Nikola describes as "door guy/sound tech/savior."
As other smaller underground venues in SE Portland and around the city started closing—Langano Lounge, Blue Monk, Slabtown and, most recently, the Alhambra Theatre, to name a few—Habesha's small space took up the slack with a fury. On any given Friday night, you could catch some of the hippest bands in Portland playing to a very packed and sweaty room. Máscaras, Grammies, And And And, Old Light, Minden, Talkative, Ah God, Souvenir Driver, Grandparents, Johanna Warren, Consumer, Hollow Sidewalks, Havania Whaal, and Sister Mamie Foreskin, amongst hundreds of others.
The emotion of the room, which was named as one of the top bars in Portland by Willamette Week this past spring, was always one of safety. You could see Holland Andrew's Like a Villain play to a packed room and still hear a pin drop, or dance with abandon to frantic light displays from Talkative and Ah God. Through it all, Nikola was always there, with a hug and a PBR, the dollar brushed aside.
Nikola joined The Gritty Birds Podcast the Sunday after Habesha closed for an emotional interview talking about his years at the venue, the highs and lows, favorite shows, what can be done to keep our small venues open, and the incident on the final night of karaoke that closed the venue early.
This episode also features music by some of Nikola's favorite bands and voicemails from listeners telling their favorite Habesha memories. Songs include: