The Atomic Cantina began as a joint venture between three young musicians turned businessmen. Joey Gonzales of the Dirty Novels, Shawn Avery of the Demons and Leonard Apodaca of Scenester opened the Atomic the very first day they were given their liquor license on May 5, 2003.
“I think it’s every 21-year-old male’s dream to own a bar,” Apodaca asserts. “Since it was our first try at owning a bar, we wanted to have a place all three of us felt comfortable in,” he recalls. “We had initially thought that, because the name had to do with a cantina, we might try serving food and we might also try to have a bunch of different kinds of margaritas and things like that. But we tried different things and I think we basically settled on having a cool hangout bar that’s kind of blue-collar.”
The Atomic’s move from being strictly a bar to hosting live bands came about largely because of the owners’ shared interest in music and in helping other musicians find a place to play. “I think because we’re all musicians, that played a part in us becoming more of a venue and I also think we really wanted to help support our local scene,” Apodaca says.
The Atomic has continued to thrive for several reasons. Chief among them, Apodaca says, is the bar’s close proximity to Burt’s Tiki Lounge, which is right next door on Gold Street. “At first, I think both the people at Burt’s and those of us at Atomic weren’t sure how things were going to work with us being right next to each other,” he says. “But it’s turned out that I think we wouldn’t have survived without Burt’s. Because we’re so close to each other and because we both have no cover, it’s a no-risk venture for people to check out both clubs.”
On any given night, there’s an eclectic mix of Atomic Cantina visitors, ranging from musical savants to trivia junkies to the ever-growing group of Atomic regulars, some of which, Apodaca says, are at the bar more than he is.
As has occurred on May 5 every year since 2003, the Atomic Cantina will hold its anniversary celebration. This Friday will mark the venue’s third year of existence and will feature performances by a slew of local acts, including Romeo Goes to Hell, Unit 7 Drain, The MindySet, Scenester, Dead on Point 5, Sleestaks, The Hollis Wake, Kimo, Silk 50 and Kronic Obsession.
“We tried to get bands that really supported the Atomic,” Apodaca says. “There were a bunch of bands I would have liked to have added but the show would have started at noon. We’ve got some really excellent bands playing, though. It’s a great way to help us say ‘thanks’ to all of our loyal customers and to maybe get some new people to come check us out.”