Photo | Lagniappe
Satori Coffee House, at 5460 Old Shell Road, has been a destination for music fans for more than two decades.
Since opening its doors as a record store in the early ‘90s, Satori Coffee House has played an influential part in the musical development and taste of many Mobilians. A recent changing of the guard could mean a new generation of locals might find inspiration from the sounds echoing from this quaint West Mobile destination.
New co-owner Neil Byrne is one of many who credit Satori with helping nurture his passion for music. Byrne and his brother and business partner Charles hope to once again make music a major feature at Satori, which also boasts comfortable meeting spaces and a casual menu. Whether it is punk, jazz or Americana, Byrne hopes to write another chapter in Satori’s legacy by cultivating an all-inclusive environment for all walks and tastes.
Byrne discovered Satori Sound Records during his middle school years at St. Pius X. In those days, Byrne said mixtapes from friends led him to trade in his parachute pants and cardboard dance floor for a skateboard and punk rock.
He also had a friend with an enigmatic older brother who had one of the most coveted of teenage possessions — a car. He compares the brother to the Mike Damone character from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
One day, the brother invited the youngsters to hop in his Oldsmobile for a trip to a record store west of University Boulevard, which was Satori’s original location. That trip made a lasting impression that remains today.
“To be honest, I was overwhelmed,” Byrne said. “I was still new to everything punk rock. I did know some things, but it was all very new to me. It was a little weird and overwhelming.”
While establishing his own reputation with bands such as Sexual Bovine, Byrne used Satori’s inventory of albums and cassettes to discover new and exciting sounds. As the young musician began promoting local shows, Byrne attended Satori performances from offbeat acts such as underground blues rocker Bob Log III and comedian Neil Hamburger.
The following years saw Satori evolve into a coffee shop and restaurant and it eventually obtained a liquor license. Byrne went on to co-found The Hibachi Stranglers (Mobile’s longest running punk band) and recently, he has been producing shows across the city under the name Plastik Panther.
Eventually, longtime Satori owner Chuck Cox approached Byrne and his brother with an offer to buy in. Even though both he and his brother have spent a wealth of time working in the bar and restaurant industry, Byrne admits a business venture such as Satori was the farthest thing from his mind. However, he entertained the idea while seeking input from several downtown bar owners.
“My brother was working offshore, and he got back a month later,” explained Byrne. “I showed [the offer] to him. He went home and the next day he called me and said, ‘Hey, how would you feel about owning a coffee shop?’ From there, we started an LLC, and we’re working hard to get all the legal stuff out of the way.”
While other locals hold the same nostalgia for Satori and the history of Mobile’s music scene, Byrne has a vision for the future that could create memories for those already familiar and just getting acquainted with this landmark locale.
A majority of Satori’s live music performances will be all-ages. While some downtown venues such The Blind Mule offer all-ages shows, the generally age-restrictive environment of the Downtown Mobile entertainment district can be intimidating for some teens and their parents.
Byrne hopes Satori’s West Mobile location and open-arms attitude toward everyone will encourage those who might not want to venture downtown. He also hopes that featuring all-ages shows will encourage youngsters to establish new bands of their own.
“There’s a group of young kids that come here, and I want to give them a chance and help them out in starting their first bands,” Byrne said. “I’ve got some ideas and plans in the works to get that going. Right now, we’ve got a great group of young musicians in their 20’s doing some exciting things, but they’ll be in their 30’s soon. Who will take their place? These kids are like me when I was in middle school going to Satori for the first time. They don’t know what’s out there, even with the internet. We’ve got to get them involved and give them a chance.”
While his personal experience focused on the underground side of music, Byrne hopes to establish an “NPR format” to Satori. One night may feature a singer-songwriter, and another night might bring a symphonic project to the intimate stage. Satori will be just as likely to host a raging set of underground rock as it is a hip-hop showcase.
Byrne plans to host monthly mixtape meet-ups as well as a collaborative vinyl night with Mobile Records, when he also hopes to feature live music. He says Satori will continue to host the University of South Alabama’s Independent Music Collective and the Mobile Jazz Club will also use Satori for a monthly performance.
“[Mobile Jazz Club] is a group of working musicians and some people that play with musicians,” Byrne said. “They do jazz standards, and there is no cover. It’s just a group of people doing it for their love of jazz music. It’s just a great and fun event, and they’re another group that I’m lucky to have here.”
Once he and his brother finish with the legal aspects of joining Satori, Byrne will shift more focus to live music, which he considers “the fun stuff.” Additionally, Satori will also be extending its closing time to 2 a.m. four nights a week to cater those working in the service industry or up late studying for exams.
Overall, Byrne’s vision for Satori is to reflect the “multicultural hub” that area of West Mobile around the University of South Alabama has become. Similarly, the Byrne brothers aim to promote diversity and inclusion within Satori’s sky blue exterior walls.
“We’ve got international students playing chess in there,” he said. “We’ve got political groups, Christian groups and language groups meeting here. Whether people realize it or not, it’s a center for diversity and community expression.”