Darwin’s House of Burgers and Blues has a long and erratic history dating back to the 1960s, but the tiny juke joint is making a comeback under the ownership of Lindsay Wine and Jonathan Akin.
In April, the online music television network Dirty South TV will be filming two-hour live sessions with blues musicians from across the world as they take the stage at Darwin’s.
The show, titled “The Acoustic Lunch Hour,” will air on Dirty South TV’s website each Thursday between noon and 2 p.m., and Mariettans are invited in for a free blues performance as the cameras roll.
Giuseppe Colato, the creator of Dirty South TV, which he likens to a free “Netflix” for music, is ecstatic to be filming the series in Darwin’s. The online network averages 30,000 viewers for shows across 186 countries, he said.
Darwin’s has a rich history and is a haven for some of the world’s most talented blues musicians, Colato said.
“We feel that these people are not only good, but better than anything you can hear on the radio or pick up and buy in the stores,” he said.
Darwin’s has seen its fair share of the blues in its time, but Colato believes the “juke joint” is now on the rise, thanks to its new owners and the support of blues-loving Southerners.
Darwin’s: where great blues evolves
On a recent rainy afternoon, Wine was busy folding dishrags and catching up with customers as they walked in and out of the house, which she took over in
The history of Darwin’s is like a blues song, rambling and filled with emotion. Wine said he had pieced together the history from stories gathered by local regulars and musicians.
In the 1950s, Darwin’s was just a home on Roswell Road, and at some point in the 1960s became an Irish bar called Kelly’s Tap Room, she said, which attracted a “rough” biker crowd.
In the 1980s, Kay Rowedder, a commercial pilot, bought the house and decided to turn it into a blues club. This marked the beginning of Darwin’s.
Rowedder ruled over the place with an iron-fist, Wine said, and got the best acts from across the world to stop by and play shows in Marietta. Dancing and loud noises from the audience were strictly forbidden.
Darwin’s became known throughout the world as “must-see place” for Atlanta visitors and music aficionados, Wine said.
Rowedder had a heart attack and sold Darwin’s in the early 2000s, and the establishment passed through a number of owners’ hands throughout the next 10 years, eventually deteriorating to the point where the building was condemned around 2010.
In September 2011, Wine and her boyfriend, Akin, grew sick of their day jobs working in the corporate sector in Atlanta. The two dreamed of owning a food truck and traveling around the Southeast, slinging hash and living on the go.
A friend suggested the pair look into selling food at an establishment without wheels. Wine and Akin obliged and toured a number of bars and restaurants for sale.
Darwin’s was the last venue the couple looked at, and Wine said she knew when she stepped foot through the dilapidated back door she was in love with the place.
“It had some kind of weird vibe. Both of us were taken aback by the place,” Wine said.
It took nearly $75,000 to bring the one-roomed shack back into working order, with financial backing from three other Atlanta-area donors: Michael Harper, a tax lawyer; Raymond Chang, a friend from their corporate jobs; and Thomas Samples, an old Darwin’s customer and Marietta resident, Wine said.
They didn’t change much. Wine designated the place non-smoking, and Akin put in a kitchen and planned out a lunch and dinner menu, but the couple left most of the history in place.
The hardwood floors are covered with small tables and chairs, often filled with a mix of locals and visitors from across the Southeast.
On Thursday night, Michael Allen drove in from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn., to hear the house band jam. Allen said he drives the roughly 120 miles at least once a week to listen to the music at Darwin’s.
There is not a lot of wiggle room at Darwin’s. The capacity is 73 people.
Wine said she often has to turn people away from the weekend performances, as the place can get packed.
There isn’t much extra room on the walls, either, as they are covered with bumper stickers, band posters and framed photographs of musicians who have played at Darwin’s through the years. The wall behind the stage is covered with signatures, as it is a tradition to sign the wall after you play at Darwin’s.
Wine said everything at Darwin’s is extremely organized, as there isn’t any room to misplace something. The wall behind the bar is neatly stacked with liquor bottles and a chalkboard with the week’s lineup of bands. There is one tiny cooler, less than 3 feet wide, that holds the bar’s food, beer and ice.
Akin, in charge of food at Darwin’s, goes shopping at local farmers’ markets, grocery stores and butchers each day to get the ingredients required to feed customers. There isn’t any room to store extra food, so everything is fresh, Wine said.
After nearly three years of hard work, Wine and Akin have brought Darwin’s back to its old status and bands are now clamoring to play there.
“I have way more requests, I have to turn many bands away. You gotta be a certain level to play here,” she said.
Darwin’s hosts eight live shows six nights a week and is closed Sundays.
The couple has opened up Darwin’s to a number of different music genres, and now present “jam nights” during the week, where local residents are invited to play their instruments and sing whatever style they want, Wine said.
She has heard people perform everything from Native American flute music, jazz, reggae, country and, of course, blues.
Opening up Darwin’s to more diverse types of music has created a new community of local customers, which has helped Darwin’s grow immensely in the last three years, Wine said.
“It has grown by leaps and bounds. It feels like everyone who comes in becomes a regular at some level,” Wine said.
The feeling of excitement that came over Wine when she first stepped into Darwin’s permeates throughout the place, and new customers always come back, she said.
“You instantly become that regular, we know everybody in here. It’s a ‘Cheers’-like atmosphere, but with music,” she added. “We know what you drink. It feels like home.”
“There’s good karma in that building,” he said.
The “huge” blues community in Marietta hasn’t hurt either, Wine said.
Marietta, a burgeoning blues community
A bumper sticker on the side of the cooler reads “Darwin’s, Where Great Blues Evolves.”
In its heyday, Darwin’s was a must-see stop for blues fans visiting Atlanta, Colato said.
“People would fly to the United States to go to that club. It was a big, big deal,” he said.
Blues greats including Little G. Weevil, John McKnight and Bobby Rush have played at Darwin’s, Wine said, and the list of talented musicians who perform there continues to grow.
Having a world-renowned blues club in its backyard has made Cobb a haven for music lovers, Colato said.
“Marietta has a killer blues scene,” he said. “We feel Atlanta has the most musical talent of anyplace in the world.”
The history of the building and of the blues have melded and evolved throughout the last 60 years, Wine said, and since taking over as owner, she has learned to love the old-fashioned form of music.
“Blues has such a rich history. It comes from the heart. It’s not about what you play, but how you play it. Blues is a feeling and not at all sad and depressing,” Wine said.
In the next five years, Wine sees Darwin’s sticking with what it knows best — the blues. There are plans to re-vamp the menu, and maybe have a traveling Darwin’s food truck, but Wine is content with her job at Darwin’s.
“I love getting to be a part of history,” she said.
More information about the television shows and Darwin’s can be found at darwinsburgers.com.
Want to go?
What: The Acoustic Lunch Hour, live blues television show
When: Every Thursday starting April 3, between noon and 2 p.m.
Where: Free, live performances filmed at Darwin’s House of Burger’s and Blues, 1598 Roswell Road, Marietta, or online atdirtysouthtv.com