NEW YORK – What makes collections of streets, houses, and stores more than places where adults sleep and children go to school are the energy and personalities of its residents and entrepreneurs.
Evangelos Roumeliotis, who spent his childhood in Corona – and Aghia Parasekvi in Athens – is one of the people who helped turn Astoria from a nice place to live into one of New York’s hot neighborhoods.
People still talk about his Tupelo music bar the multitalented man opened on 34th Avenue when he finally tired of working for others and wearied of having to go into Manhattan to meet artists and musicians.
“I thought I can’t be the only person in the neighborhood who constantly goes into the city looking for that, so I decided to open up a bar here,” he told TNH.
It was a success from day one. “There were a lot of great people there, musicians, artists and writers, everything… a lot of great bands.”
People always ask about the name – it doesn’t come directly from Elvis’ home town. “It’s named after the Nick Cave song, about Elvis being born there the year of the great floods there.”
Ironically, there was a tremendous storm in New York on opening day. “We thought we wouldn’t be able to open, but the sky cleared by night time and we had a great party.”
It was a sad day when it’s run ended – the landlord decided to build a supermarket – but its closing just meant there would be new beginnings elsewhere, like Sparrow bar, Mar’s and most recently, the Letlove Inn.
Roumeliotis built his first two bars with the help of his younger brother Foti and friends. “I still work that way. I’m not as hands on any more, but I’m there every day…I draw things and others build them. “
“I enjoy it. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I call it a very expensive passion,” he said.
He always liked throwing parties, but he said “I like just creating the environment. I get an inspiration, a certain look, and I love building it…You come up with a feel and work hard to have it come to fruition.”
And from the beginning he was blessed with access to the woodworking gifts of Tom Fade, who is part Italian and English.
Roumeliotis scours the Tristate area for furnishings. Sometimes he installs what he finds whole, other times they take them apart and reassembles them into new creations.
He has a gift for creating places have the feel of having been there forever – two weeks after they open the customers find a home and friends from across America and around the world.
In the beginning, his places don’t have a name outside. “I don’t know why,” he said when asked. “I guess I don’t get to it on time.” He admits that the mystery generated a buzz, but “word of mouth is done” he said – today social networking rules.
When he opened Sparrow in 2005 it was supposed to be another rock and roll bar, but when they fixed up the little kitchen it was re-christened the Sparrow Tavern.”
The Mar’s restaurant on 34th avenue followed (“Astoria Empire: Roaring Twenties Feel at Mar’s,” Oct. 26, 2013). Roumeliotis gutted the priori restaurant space and created what he calls a cross between cafes one would find in Paris and Vienna – cities he loves.
He initially thought of presenting Greek food, but he changed his mind. “It’s new American with Mediterranean influence,” he said.
LIVE…FROM ASTORIA…LIVE MUSIC
There is now live music at Mar’s. Jazz on Thursdays attracts nice crowds, and he is excited about presenting live Rebetika – his favorite kind of music – on Wednesdays, when the menu will tilt more Greek with Mezedakia. Christos Papadopoulos, Rena Tsapelas will the featured performers along with guitarist, Kostas Baltazanis, who leads the jazz ensembles that perform at Mar’s on Thursdays.
The Letlove was designed with some musical focus and it too features live music. There is a performance space, a piano open to everyone from guests to bartenders – most of his bartenders are musicians – and two turntables that treat classic vinyl records with tender loving care. Live music will also be performed on a weekday to be determined.
The love of music is in Roumeliotis’ genes. His parents, George and Maria, were born on Euboea. George, who worked hard to support his family, from washing dishes to driving his own taxi, had a strong artistic impulse.
“My father was very good with his hands and also did a lot of construction and marble work, but he would always doodle and draw, and any instrument you gave him he could play it.”
The music gene apparently passed by his older brother Jimmy, but Roumeliotis said his brother Foti is an incredible guitarist. Roumeliotis learned to play guitar on his own, and now taking lessons from Costas Baltazanis, who leads the ensembles at Mar’s and Letlove Inn.
The latter has wall surfaces that he plans to devote to occasional art shows by local artists. Roumeliotis used to paint, and he will again – perhaps inspired by his four year-old daughter Maria Amelie Roumeliotis (hence, M-A-R’s).
“She loves it – drawing, art, music – I’m sure in a few years we’ll be painting together.”
He also founded a film festival. “We give out assignments and people have three weeks to complete a film, which we screen. There is an awards gala and a party afterwards.”
It outgrew Sparrow’s space. “We took it to the Museum of the Moving Image –and may outgrow that too,” he said. It is sponsored by Kaufman Studios and the 2015 sign up date will be soon announced at sparrowfilmproject.com.