Moondog’s Lounge in Auburn celebrates seven years in business this July. Since the downtown music venue opened in 2015, owner Lynn Varley has been committed to serving up the best local beers, Finger Lakes wines, and of course, the most jammin’ rock, blues, and jazz the city has to offer.
That’s what Moondog’s is all about: live music. Varley is a sixth-grade teacher at Casey Park Elementary School by day, and owner and operator of Moondog’s by night. Like her patrons, she needed a place to unwind. The rock music venue and bar has undergone quite an evolution since it first opened, though some tried and true features remain the same.
“About eight years ago, I had a thought that I wanted to do something in addition to teaching. I thought, ‘what could I do that was going to be a challenge?’ explained Varley. “It evolved from having wine and cheese and thinking of the Finger Lakes and the Finger Lakes Wine Trail. I come from Cuba, New York, where there’s Cuba cheese, so it kind of stemmed from that.”
Daily worries seem to melt away when you walk into the 24 State St. venue. There’s the impressive purple stage to your right, with Moondog’s signature white crescent moon logo and a framed chalkboard schedule on the adjacent wall. That chalkboard is something of a local relic- it hung on the wall at Spirits Tavern and Cafe, the famed local bar that used to occupy the space before its closure in 2008.From the ceiling hangs multi-colored string lights illuminating the bar and seating area. On the back wall just before the kitchen, you’ll find a stunning purple and white moon mosaic, created with the help of Varley’s artist friend Jesse Kline, assistant director at Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District, along with other helping hands. The bathrooms feature sprawling murals. The women’s even has a drum kit turned into a sink.
“In the beginning, we had more couches and chairs and things like that. I think the space itself of being Spirits and being more of a rock music club venue, instead of an acoustic stage, it’s a plugged-in electric stage. And it’s just taken off from there. I’ve kind of gone along with what it evolved into, let it take shape into what it ended up needing to be,” said Varley.
Though not originally from Auburn, the city has become home to Varley. She expressed appreciation for the support of the Auburn community in helping Moondog’s grow and thrive. It hasn’t always been an easy road- Varely didn’t have any business experience before opening Moondog’s, and COVID-related closures were also a struggle for many downtown businesses.
On the topic of running a small business, Varley said: “It’s one of those things that I have absolutely no regrets. Had I known then what I know now, I probably would have run the other way scared. But you know, it’s taught me a lot. I’ve met amazing, amazing people. So many people that have been so supportive, especially the last couple years with opening and closing and COVID and all of that. I wouldn’t still be open if it wasn’t for the community support.”
Varley marveled at what downtown Auburn has become. Even ten years ago, she said, the area was something of a ghost town. Now, it’s a vibrant place where the community can come together and enjoy what the new scene has to offer. She called it a “rebirth,” “sort of the renaissance of the downtown area.”
“There are so many amazing people that really work to make it a destination place. I’ve really seen that in the last several years, where people come in, and they don’t just pass through, but they come in and stay. They come see some of our local historical sites, Prison City with their new brewery is great, and just the different local restaurants that we have downtown. It’s up and coming as a place that people can, you know, come, stay, do things, and then also visit other places in the Finger Lakes,” said Varley.
Looking ahead, Varley said she plans to “keep on keepin’ on,” a phrase truly in line with the mission and vibe of Moondog’s Lounge. Sunday, May 15, Moondog’s is hosting a “Shining the Moon on Ukraine” fundraising event.
“Irv Lyons Jr, who is one of the musicians that plays here frequently, actually approached me with the idea and said it’d be something great that we could do to help out,” said Varley of the event. “So we’re going to be open from 1 to 5 pm. We have three bands that are going to play about an hour each. They’re all great musicians that play here on a regular basis that are donating their time and talent to the occasion. There’ll be some raffles. People have donated some items to be able to have a silent auction, some 50/50s.”
“All the proceeds, whatever is made from the raffles, etc, and whatever I make from table reservations that we do, will go to St. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church’s “Humanitarian Aid for the Ukraine” fund. Plus we’ve had some other local sponsors as well, that have also donated their money to help the event.
The featured artists for Sunday’s event are The Light, Moe Bauso, and The Lunch Ladies. Food and snacks will be provided by Angelo’s Pizza.
For those interested in seating, reserving a table is encouraged and the fee is $10 per seat. To make reservations, call or text Varley at (315) 406-7455.