The more time Anna Morsett spent on stage, and the more she looked around the room, the more serious she sounded.
“OK,” she finally said. “I’m moving to Colorado Springs. Who wants to hang out?”
The announcement came after the Denver-based musician had, in between songs, shared how much she loved the place she was playing. It was her band’s — called The Still Tide — first time playing Lulu’s Downstairs.
The new bar/music venue in Manitou Springs is the kind of place you’re not sure about at first. After parking near a bunch of hotels and opening two large red doors, you immediately walk down steps, passing under a mirror that will likely see plenty of selfies. You’re then greeted by a dark, spacious bar.
It’s the kind of place you can tell has history, and it does. It’s the kind of place where you can get a can of Montucky and a shot of house whiskey for $6. Oh, and the house whiskey is Four Roses. It’s the kind of place where, several nights per week, touring and local bands are playing in the back room.
It’s also the kind of place that makes an out-of-town musician want to move to the Pikes Peak region.
“I know I sort of kept joking about it that night,” Morsett said in a phone interview after her show at Lulu’s. “But I’m serious. Knowing such a cool venue like that exists there, I’d totally move.”
Marc Benning opened Lulu’s in July in the Manitou Springs building formerly occupied by the long-running restaurant Castaways.
Benning has spent decades in the music business. After touring around the country in a band called 34 Satellite, he was looking for a way to stay in the industry while staying in Colorado to be near his young daughter.
“On a personal level, I’ve always believed in music,” said Benning, who also runs a recording studio in Deckers. “I’ve always believed in how it brings people together.”
For a while, he booked music at the Ivywild School. When he heard about a vacant space off Manitou Avenue, Benning went to take a look.
“It was in rough shape,” he says.
He saw “years of broken dreams and broken walls.”
He also saw potential.
Benning found out that legends like Ray Charles and Tina Turner played there in the ’60s and ’70s. He decided to try to bring music back there in the form a 400-capacity venue.
“I’ve watched this town change,” he said. “There’s this creative influx and youthful influx where people are looking for cool things to do.”
He lined the bar with mismatched chairs and the walls with mismatched artwork. He didn’t put up TVs, but he did put up retro wallpaper and plugged in a record player. He outfitted it with red leather seating. He named the place after his daughter, Lulu.
The little things
To book bands, Benning has drawn on his music connections as well as “old-fashioned research.”
Lulu’s ramped up its music calendar in early September and has shows scheduled through November, as well as a weekly comedy night. Some shows are free. Others cost between $10 and $20. You can see what’s on tap on Facebook, where Benning often shares a photo of the weekly lineup written on a piece of notebook paper.
“I want to curate it in a way where if there’s a show here, you trust it’s going to be good,” Benning said. “I want it to be one of those places that’s solid. You can rely on them if you want to go to a good show.”
In building Lulu’s, Benning has drawn on his experiences — good and bad — playing shows.
“Touring so much, I remember what venues felt good,” he said. “When you play a good one, it’s meaningful.”
For Morsett, who has played shows for over a decade, Lulu’s is one of those venues. She says it’s for simple reasons, like the cozy feel of the green room and the quality of the sound and, overall, “feeling welcomed and cared for.”
“All those little things are important for an artist,” she said. “You perform better when you feel that way. It’s funny that it doesn’t happen all of the time.”
There’s also the unique look of Lulu’s.
“You can tell the care that went into it,” Morsett said. “Places like that are treasures. Musicians always talk about rooms they like and don’t like. They’ll 100 hundred percent of the time remember rooms like Lulu’s and they won’t remember hundreds of other rooms.”
Days after their show at Lulu’s, The Still Tide headed to California to start a monthlong tour. Who knows if Morsett will actually move to Colorado Springs. But she plans on returning to Lulu’s as soon as possible.
“Tour is really hard,” she said. “When you play a good show, it can keep you going. It can carry you through.”