Slade’s Bar & Grill changes hands
Slade’s Bar & Grill, one of Lower Roxbury’s longtime go-to spots for R & B music and soul food, is under new ownership — but patrons can rest assured that they’ll continue to find the same food, entertainment and atmosphere they know and love.
On the Web
Slade’s: www.facebook.com/…; or call: 617-442-4600
Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA): www.becma.org
The new ownership team, which took the reins June 6, is made up of Darryl Settles, owner of the nearby Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, local real estate developer and founder of the Beantown Jazz Festival; Terryl Calloway, a local music promoter and entrepreneur who created the popular “30+ Saturdays” series at Slade’s; and Leo Papile, founder of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club and former senior director of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics.
Speaking with the Banner on a recent morning as the chefs and wait staff prep for lunch service, Settles and Calloway discuss what’s new and what’s not at Slade’s, and the state of black business in Boston.
“The food will remain the same,” Calloway says firmly. Describing it as soul food with a bit of Latin fusion, he names some of the crowd favorites: fried chicken — affectionately known as “crack chicken” by fans who find the taste nearly addictive; baked chicken wings on Tuesdays; and spicy oxtail on Thursdays. The entire kitchen crew is staying on and will continue to serve up ribs, catfish, fried shrimp and smaller plates like okra poppers and chicken livers.
The focus will remain lunch, dinner and late-night, the owners say, and their general approach is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That said, a few improvements are underway. Settles, whose roles are managing partner and operations manager, has directed some sprucing up of the interior, including a new coat of paint and the removal of a film that darkened the front windows facing Tremont Street.
In addition, Settles has commissioned local spray paint artist Ricardo Gomez, known as DEME 5, to create a permanent artwork display depicting black community luminaries, from local community activists and business owners to sports legends. Slade’s was once owned by Celtics great Bill Russell, they note, and Muhammad Ali was one of the bar’s legendary visitors, as were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Larger aim: supporting
a black economy
Slade’s employs about 40 people currently, with at least half coming from the nearby community and the rest from the wider Boston area.
The new owners say former Slade’s owners Ivan Payamps and Ramon Genao, who own the building and continue to operate the adjacent Hollywood Liquors, made it clear they preferred to sell to Roxbury community members and recognized the importance of Slade’s to Roxbury’s African American community. The sellers and buyers worked closely together to make the transition seamless, with no lost business days or employee workdays.
Settles emphasizes the significance of continued minority ownership of the club. Slade’s is one of the last surviving live music venues in a once-thriving South End and Lower Roxbury jazz scene — and one of what Settles says is a too-small number of thriving black-owned and black-frequented businesses in the city.
“For people of color, there are no outlets in the city,” Settles says. “I could let you choose 10 restaurants downtown for lunch, and we would not see 10 people of color in any of the restaurants.” He characterizes Slade’s, in existence for more than 80 years, as a “safe, open environment where everyone is welcome,” with the small caveat “as long as they behave.”
He and Calloway both are founding members of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), formed in 2015 with a mission to advance the economic well-being of Massachusetts black businesses, black residents and organizations serving the black community.
Slade’s will continue to offer nightly entertainment, including Calloway’s 30+ Saturdays series, Wednesday night comedy hosted by Jonathan Gates and Monday Night Football viewing. Tuesdays will continue to be old school music nights, anchored by pianist Frank Wilkins and his WeJazzUp band. Longtime hostess Kaicee King presides over what Wilkins calls a “jam session for vocalists,” giving aspiring singers a chance to perform with a live back-up band.
Wilkins tells the Banner the open mic evening draws all ages. He has seen teen musicians that came in with their families to sit in with the band and later went on to win scholarships to Berklee College of Music. At the other end of the spectrum, he recalls a patron celebrating his 101st birthday with relatives and friends.
“It’s a wonderful community gathering, with people from all over coming to listen to the music and enjoy the food,” Wilkins says. “The menu is fantastic — the best soul food in New England.”
Wilkins is one of the regulars who’s glad to hear that new ownership doesn’t mean dramatic changes.
“[Settles and I] had conversations, particularly around the entertaining,” he says. “We built this community, and I wouldn’t want to see anything that changes the clientele.”