Rhett Brinkley

GiGi’s Lounge, the new entertainment venue taking over the former South on Main/Juanita’s space at 1304 S. Main St. in SoMa, will celebrate its grand opening Friday, June 28.

Owner Don Marshall was at the venue getting a few last-minute preparations in order when reached by phone on Monday. It’s a hectic time, he said, “but it’s going to come together and be a beautiful thing Friday night.”

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Several local musicians will be performing at the opening, including Rodney Block; Butterfly; Tawanna Campbell; Keith Savage; Haywood King; Charlie Askew; Tina Cossey; and Nicky Parrish, who will also be hosting the event.

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Marshall said he wants the vibe at GiGi’s to be mature, and the venue’s target audience will be what he calls the “grown and sexy” 35+ crowd. His focus on the age demographic brought to mind a 2023 feature in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about a string of bar closures in the River Market district. Real estate agent and Rock City Eats publisher Greg Henderson was quoted in the story, saying, “You can’t cater to college-aged kids. That isn’t the demographic you should be going after. Little Rock is not a college town like Fayetteville.”

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Other restaurants in the U.S. are targeting similar audiences, ditching the marketing world’s longstanding preoccupation with youth and instead embracing a clientele whose tastes lean less toward frat parties and beer bongs, more toward lounge seating and a good wine list (and who likely have more disposable income to spend on food and drink). The Washington Post recently reported that a Caribbean restaurant outside of St. Louis even banned diners under the age of 30.

That said, you have to be at least 21 to attend the show on Friday. All the table reservations for the grand opening sold out right away, Marshall said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if the event sold out completely. The entry is $20. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m.

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In a previous interview with the Arkansas Times Marshall said he’s been thinking about opening a venue for years. He previously owned GiGi’s Soul Cafe and Lounge on Maumelle Boulevard in North Little Rock. It was originally opened by his late mother, his sister and his niece.

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“I loved the place,” he said, but the venue wasn’t making a profit, and he wasn’t able to find a reliable manager to run the day-to-day operations. For the new iteration of GiGi’s, Marshall partnered with Jacob Udell, who has 20 years of experience running Club Envy and the former Club Elevations.

“He knows everything about this business,” Marshall said. “That’s the whole reason I’m doing this.”

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Marshall said GiGi’s will feature a diverse lineup of local and touring musicians. He also plans for the venue to host karaoke, open mic nights and comedy shows. He said he expects to have a house band, and he’s looking forward to bringing back “GiGi’s Idol,” a popular judged karaoke competition from his former club.

The menu will include bar food such as burgers and fries, wings, onion rings and catfish, Marshall said. Eventually he expects to host a Sunday brunch. You can follow the club’s Facebook page for hours and future events.

The piece of real estate on the 1300 block of South Main has been a Little Rock landmark for showgoers and musicians for decades. Frank McGehee and Mark Abernathy opened Juanita’s there in 1986, a Tex-Mex restaurant and music venue that would become one of the best sounding rooms in the state (and host some epic Arkansas Times Musicians Showcases in the early aughts). A couple years after Juanita’s departed South Main for the River Market (it closed for good in 2015), chef Matt Bell opened South on Main in partnership with the Oxford American in 2013. Bell sold the venue to restaurateurs Don Dugan and Tasha Stratton in 2020 just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dugan closed South on Main in December 2022 and briefly reopened it as a neighborhood bar and venue called The Busker. Dugan told the Arkansas Times he began discussing the sale with Marshall at the end of March.

“Juanita’s had all kinds of incredible music, all kinds of incredible bands, and I just got an opportunity to kind of keep it alive and keep it moving,” Dugan said.

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Marshall hopes the new venue will be another venerable spot for the SoMa neighborhood.

“It’s gonna be a great place to come,” Marshall said. “Everybody knew the old Juanita’s, now I want everyone to know GiGi’s.”