story by Robin Beaudoin | photos by Andrew Stanford
If it’s not the party itself, it’s the afterparty. Zebra Lounge has won the hearts of Memphians over the past five years. Part owner Tamara (pronounced like “tomorrow”, minus the W) Goldstein, 39, brought Chicago’s legend to Memphis, and hasn’t looked back. The Zebra has grown into a staple bar for the LGBT+ set in the Mid-South, and only has plans to strengthen that bond.
The Zebra toils to create a welcoming atmosphere for all its guests. Goldstein herself, bartends, along with Memphis legend Eileen Hogan, Rubi Gomez, Amber Touponce, Clark Reeves, and Jennivene Blake. Piano players are present every night of the week, taking requests and serving as a live jukebox, and there’s never a cover. Louise Page, Steven Rhodes, Steven Thomas, Joe Boogie, Shane Chastain, Adam Levin, Marcella Simien (of Marcella and Her Lovers), and Nathan McHenry all sit at the piano bench and lead singalongs. Goldstein offers the bar up for a myriad of special events, as well. “It’s a very selfish thing for me- not only does it create awareness for the bar, but it’s so much fun to throw parties. I always hire people who create relationships with guests, so they’ll come back. You have to have a comfortable atmosphere. Our philosophy here is, “You’re doing us a favor by walking in the door.” The crew not only slings cocktails but has called numerous rides and searched security cameras for cars and belongings for its guests. Goldstein stresses, “Little things like that make the difference. I tell the staff to put themselves in the guests’ shoes.”
Raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Downy, home to Richard and Karen Carpenter, Goldstein lived between California and Illinois until age 31. At 21 she moved to downtown Chicago for ten years in fine dining steakhouses, including the original Morton’s, working at the original Zebra Lounge on Mondays. “I’d get my friends to come see me at the dive bar (Zebra), and it became a thing. Industry friends all came after work.”
Upon her move to Memphis, she started work at East Memphis steakhouse Fleming’s. She worked her way up to private dining manager at Fleming’s, and soon received a call from the old Zebra in Chicago, and her old manager Michael Vaughn had bought the bar in Chicago. He asked if she’d like to open a Zebra in Memphis, and soon after, he and Goldstein opened the Zebra in Overton Square, along with Chicago Zebra Lounge piano man and silent partner Steve Kouba. All three have known each other for over 20 years. “Michael and I used to bartend together, and Steve played piano. You never think that small job you had, just because you liked it, would identify your life- this was not something I saw coming.
Goldstein doesn’t run the Zebra alone. Her son Rex, age 4, is a regular floor mopper and duster, who gets ice for the bartenders when they set up in the afternoons. “He’s a bar baby,” laughs Goldstein.
Where does the strong relationship with the LGBT community come into play? Goldstein answers, “We were open randomly on a Sunday afternoon, and John Michael Alderson came into the bar, and asked about donating a point of sale for Dining out for Life week. I told him we’re so small, we can’t do a POS, but we could do a sing-along. That’s how we started our partnership. We realized that we had a lot of common goals in using our resources and just became really good friends. I didn’t become affiliated with FFL until after the first big gay dance party. I’ve been a go-go dancer for every party since. Now, anytime there’s a party that needs to be thrown, we always open the space. Our Rocky Horror Drag Show closed down the street, and we will do that again in October.”
Goldstein herself is involved as well. “I didn’t even think about joining until Pegasus had their recruit party here, and I thought, ‘okay, I’ll try it out.’” She joined Mystic Krewe of Pegasus in 2018, after attending the Mardi Gras ball that January. “It was spectacular!” She performed in 2019’s British Invasion ball as Ziggy Stardust, blowing everyone away in her winged-shoulder costume and Bowie mullet wig and makeup. Recently she could be spotted go-go dancing at Summertime Sizzle, another Friends for Life party.
Dancing is part of Goldstein’s background, as is music, which makes The Zebra Lounge a perfect fit. “I have a really rich background in performing. I toured with a singing and dancing group called The Young Americans when I was young, and we did workshops in high schools that were getting rid of their music programs. All of the money that was raised would go toward their music programs.”
The owners of The Zebra Lounge have hopes to expand the brand and open more locations. “It’s a challenge to try to replicate a 90-year-old institution. We’re such a small operation, we don’t have a marketing budget, so we’re hoping that this one really takes off, and then we will look at other cities. The important thing is, wherever we choose, it has to be a music city. Volume in sales, volume in guests. Special events aren’t a thing in Chicago, but in Memphis, they really bring in volume.”
Visit thezebralounge.net for upcoming events and musicians listed each week.
2114 Trimble Place