For Two Decades Phog Lounge Has
Played A Pivotal Role In The City’s Cultural Life
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Shane Chiasson
Anything can happen at Phog Lounge—and usually does. The venerable venue/watering-hole/mainstage celebrated its 20th anniversary in January.
“I was out of town visiting my brother when it happened,” Phog Lounge owner Tom Lucier remembers. “My business partner at the time, Frank Incitti, just decided on January second 2004: ‘Huh, I think I’ll open tonight,’ even though we planned to have our grand opening a few weeks later!”
This is but one instance that demonstrates how Phog Lounge forced itself into existence.
“Before Phog, I went to journalism school and started a magazine called Windsor Vox with my now-ex-wife,” Tom says. “I enjoyed taking photos and writing stories, but the main work of a magazine is selling advertising, and I hated that.”
He continues: “The owners of Lift Lounge were among my first advertisers, and so was a coffee shop called Plato’s Blend. One day the Lift guys said they were getting out and asked me to take over. When I mentioned this to Frank, who owned Plato’s Blend, he said: ‘You want to do that?’ Well, I didn’t know how to pour a beer or wipe a table, but my dissatisfaction with selling ads outweighed my fears of trying something new.”
Even the venue’s name bumbled into existence.
“Frank and I were driving with some friends, and I asked him what we should call the bar,” Tom recalls. “He said ‘The Fog Cutter.’ I asked why he put those two words together. He said: ‘It’s a bar in Kingsville.’ And I said: ‘Why would we use someone else’s name?’”
Their friends threw around some names, each involving “fog.” Finally someone suggested: “Fog Lounge.”
“I don’t like the look of a three-letter bar name, so we settled on ‘Phog Lounge,’” Tom says.
Frank understood the business aspects of Phog and Tom’s role was booking acts to bring patrons in. What sort of vetting process did Tom employ?
“I just said yes to everyone,” he says.
Over twenty years Tom said “yes” to a mesmerizing array of musicians and artists who brought shocking, soaring, scintillating work into the space. The first performer was Windsor DJ Francis Wax who took the stage in January 2004.
“In ’05, an artist came in and set up a ‘biting booth,’” Tom says.
He laughs. “That was my reaction! They hung a purple curtain around a booth in the front and had a menu that people signed a waiver where they indicated where they wanted to be bitten, how severe, and giving their permission. The artist took people into the curtained area and bit them. People came out all bruised, teeth marks on them. It was the only event of its kind that happened here. Prominent people from the arts community attended and participated.”
In 2007, Charlemagne (now known as Arkells and signed to Universal Records Canada) opened for a band called Die Mannequins. At one point during the Die Mannequins’ set, lead singer/guitarist Care Failure strolled out the front door—while still performing. Equipped with in-ear monitors and a remote guitar connection to the sound system inside Phog, Care walked onto University Avenue, stopping traffic, blasting power-chords the whole time.
“At one point, she climbed on the hood of a car that was stopped,” Tom says, “still playing, giving a full-on crotch-thrusting rock ’n’ roll performance.”
Sadly, Care Failure passed away in March 2023 at age thirty-six.
Tom recalls a visual artist asking to show work in Phog Lounge and proceeding to tape six sheets of lined notebook paper filled with pencil drawings onto a wall for a distinctly underwhelming display.
In 2022, artist Kalvin Mercier approached Tom about doing a show at Phog. Tom said “sure” without knowing who Kalvin was or having viewed his work.
“He brought in these huge pieces, the biggest we’ve ever had here,” Tom says. “He had to secure them to the walls with screws. I liked his stuff—sort of a Jean-Michel-Basquiat-thing going on. He sold a ton of work.”
Kalvin was known around Windsor by another name: Kurs.
Phog Lounge was not the first place Kalvin’s work was publicly shown. To the dismay of home and business owners, and the City of Windsor, Kurs was a fervent “tagger,” marking people’s homes, storefronts, and city property with unwanted spraypainted renderings. He quickly became a pariah in Windsor and in local media.
“He wanted to make amends for what he’d done,” Tom continues. “I felt he was sincere about that. People came in and looked at the work without knowing who he was.”
The reality of running a small business lurks beneath the surface at all times, like a shark circling a small fishing vessel. The recession of 2008 body-slammed much of the world’s economy and threatened to shutter Phog. Tom and Frank hung on. The following year, Phog won the much-publicized CBC Radio 3 Searchlight Contest for Best Live Music Venue in Canada.
“We were about to close when that happened,” Tom says, “but that turned it all around. We had a big party, Phog Fest, and the revenue from that saved the business.”
As part of the venue’s natural evolution, Frank went his own way in 2015.
If one act embodies the “Anything can happen at Phog Lounge—and usually does” ethic of the venue, it was June 2009 when renowned BMX freestyle rider Chase Gouin asked to perform there. As Tom repeatedly said “I’m not sure…” Chase brought in his bike, cleared an area in front of the stage and proceeded to freestyle before a spellbound audience.
“That was easily one of the craziest things to happen here,” Tom says.
For two decades Phog Lounge has been a vital cultural hub supporting and connecting artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, students, entrepreneurs, small business owners and generally doing its leftfield best to enrich the City of Windsor.
To view photographic and video evidence of Care Failure’s show (and traffic-stopping performance) and Chase Gouin’s two-wheeled magic, along with much more, visit Phog Lounge online at www.facebook.com/phoglounge, www.instagram.com/phoglounge and @phogtom on YouTube.