Regulars at Marty’s in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood will have to find a new bar to call home after August 31st. The institution is calling it quits after two decades of drinks, music, and the passing of the bar’s owner, Marty Eagle, earlier this year. Marty’s was a second home for many but also a home for jazz in Birmingham. WBHM’s Sarah Delia stopped by during the bar’s final week as staff, musicians, and regulars say goodbye.
For the last 20 years, the first person you’d see when you’d walk into Marty’s…was Marty. That was the face musician Sarah Green saw in 2004 when she came for an open mic night. She was new to Birmingham and nervous.
“Every musician hopes desperately to be accepted when they get up there. And this was the place where you could do that. People believed in that and came and poured their heart and soul out because it was safe here and that was all Marty,” says Green.
Marty didn’t tolerate hecklers or any negativity when it came to his stage. Plus, he made everyone pay a $5 cover, a little cash to let the musicians know he valued their time.
Like Green, many musicians came to Marty’s for the opportunity to stand on stage for the first time. While some bars close for a day of rest on Sunday, Marty thought it was important stay open. This gave artists a chance to try out new material on Sunday’s—Marty’s jazz nights.
Local trombonist Chad Fisher says that Sundays at Marty’s was his time to experiment and grow as a musician. “I got to play my jazz, my own music. I learned how to do different things like how to lead bands, write music, arrange music–it was my testing ground,” says Fisher.
Matt Devine, a pianist, says Marty went out of his way to make musicians feel special. “He’d be the first person to clap after every song. He would always put $20 in the tip jar…things that you would take for granted after a while. But now I’m like, wait a minute, this took a serious effort on his part to make this happen,” says Devine.
But regulars at the bar like Susan Collier gave the musicians someone to play to. Collier says she came in so often she joked with Marty she paid his utility bills. She says it was Marty’s golden rule of “be nice or be gone” that kept her coming around.
Kay Ferguson, Marty’s partner of 15 year who inherited the bar in February after his death, has been trying to continue Marty’s compassion towards his patrons. She’s been booking bands, juggling finances, and greeting folks at the door when they walk in, just like Marty did. Closing the bar is a decision she’s at peace with. She says she’s proud of what she was able to do and she’s happy she’s coming out on top so that she’ll be able to give money from the bar to Marty’s kids. Still, this has been an extremely difficult time for her as she grieves for the loss of Marty while trying to run his bar.
“I just miss Marty. It’s as simple as that.”
Many wonder what will happen to the bar and who will pick up the torch for jazz musicians in Birmingham. Ona Watson, owner of Ona’s Music Room and long time friend of Marty Eagle, says he will be happy to keep the tradition of Sunday Jazz alive. But he points out, there will never be another Marty’s.
“People have asked me a hundred times, ‘so are you going to be the new Marty’s?’ My reply is ‘there will never be another Marty’s.’ If that means that I will have great music and entertainment in a safe environment—that I plan to do.”