The World Famous brings music, comedy to Hot CornerPosted: March 5, 2013
Wilson’s Soul Food was David Parajon’s first meal when he moved to Athens.
The soul food place that had graced Hot Corner for over 30 years closed its doors in 2011. Months later the idea of The World Famous developed.
“We fell in love with 351 N. Hull Street,” Parajon said. “We decided there wasn’t another place in town, nearly as comfortable at this size.”
That location has been long important to the city and Hot Corner is an area with a strong history. With the intersection of Hull and Washington being so historic, Parajon and fellow owner Bain Mattox did not want to feel like the new place on the block.
“Basically we wanted this space to maybe feel like it’s been here forever,” Parajon said. “We don’t want to feel brand new.”
The building’s history remains. While most of the place was gutted to make changes, there are parts of the building that remain intact, a sign that some things are permanent.
A remaining legacy from former tenants of the Hull Street venue is some evidence of a fire that occurred in the 1920s. The legends of the place are still there, but now more stories will be told.
“We gutted the place completely, but at the same time our mantra was to use the whole buffalo,” Parajon said. So we really made sure that we would reuse anything that made sense. And [if] we could find something second hand we would. We hope the stuff here tells a little bit of a story.”
Instead of hearing the voices discuss today’s issues, the sound of local bands and vintage pinball machines take its place. The simple tables and chairs of the dining room are replaced with an open space with a stage and chandeliers made from recyclable materials.
“Basically, it has a Southern outsider, folk art feel to the space,” Parajon said. “We wanted it to be immediately comfortable and cozy.”
And while some of the soul food is gone, chicken and waffles remain, along with a plethora of hand-dining options.
“We have an opportunity to book world class entertainment in an extremely intimate environment, and enjoy incredible street food from around the world,” Parajon said. “Our chef Jarad Blanton comes from Farm 255 most recently, he has developed a ridiculous menu and we’ll be open until 2 a.m., so we’ll be serving food late.”
That menu offers customers various hand-held options such as corndogs, egg rolls, lettuce wraps and chicken wings.
“The whole idea was kind of like food-cart, street food style,” Mattox said. “No utensils needed type stuff. That was basically the one challenge we gave our chef.”
Alongside the dining, Mattox is bringing his bartending expertise from the other business he owns, Normal Bar. Drinks such as he Artimus Palmer, which mixes Kentucky bourbon and sweet tea, or the Clover Coffee, which mixes Jameson, Bailey and coffee, deliver the punches needed for a fun night downtown.
But it isn’t solely about the food, drink and art deco at The World Famous. Music and other forms of entertainment play a major role as well.
“When I met with David, we were talking about an almost underground concert type thing first and then it built into this idea,” Mattox said.
The idea became a physical venue booking national and local acts. As time progressed the tandem decided to do more than music.
“We’re letting it go as it is, and we’re not focusing on just music,” Mattox said. “We have comedy and a hypnotist coming. There’s nothing that we’re really banking on.”
Connecting the history of a place and catering that to the business is a hard goal to accomplish. Parajon, a white owner, for instance talked to the people who grace the block’s barber shops for a better understanding of the Hot Corner’s past.
“A lot of what I know about the place is passed on through oral history,” he said. “You’re not going to find a whole lot in textbooks about the Hot Corner. This block was the epicenter of African-American commerce at the turn of the century, probably one of the most vital spots in the country.”
The block was home to butcher shops, mortuaries and one of the first African-American owned car dealerships. Today, Hot Corner has shifted as an area for high end restaurants, bars and the new venue.
But through understanding the area’s history, it helps pave the way for keeping downtown thriving and local.
“We want to be good stewards of the community obviously and we want to be good to our neighbors,” Parajon said.
Being good neighbors paid off fast. After a delay in opening, neighboring businesses allowed acts that were already booked for The World Famous to perform.
For example, Howie Day played at neighboring Little Kings and Mattox’s band performed at Highwire Lounge.
The venue opened on Feb. 21, and with that the vision the duo created is complete. Now the memories can be produced.
“That’s what it’s all for, I’m excited for people to see the finished product after talking about it for so many months,” Mattox said. “People are always asking me about it, so it’s going to be great to see it come to fruition and for people to enjoy it.”