Community feature: Double Happiness serves up its last round

Erica Thompson

The past year has been full of events that have compelled Double Happiness owner Yalan Papillons to shift her professional and personal goals. Perhaps most devastating were the deaths of her last surviving grandparents: her maternal grandfather, who lived to 103, and her paternal grandmother.

“People think that you always have this freedom [as a bar owner],” Papillons said in a mid-November interview at the Brewery District establishment. “But I couldn't take off to see my grandfather in Taiwan because I was stuck here.”

The loss made Papillons re-evaluate how much time she was spending with her 70-year-old mother and 8-year old daughter. “I don't want to miss out on those years,” she said.

That is just one of the reasons Papillons decided to sell Double Happiness, which will officially close on Saturday, Nov. 25, with a hip-hop show co-hosted by J Rawls.

Additionally, Papillons said that after seven years of operating the bar she felt she was no longer able to meet her service standards for booked performers. “Running this place by myself and doing everything is too crazy for me to make every single artist … feel like I want them to feel,” she said. “I want to make them a home-cooked meal. I want them to have a place to stay.”

“I didn't feel like I was doing what I could do to my fullest potential … pushing the bands,” she continued. “Because I kick ass at pushing bands … when I can totally focus on it. But I don't want to do it half-assed.”

“[Yalan] was a phenomenal talent buyer for so many years and she brought a lot of really good shows in,” said BravoArtist co-founder Cory Hadje, who has booked artists for Double Happiness for about five years and helped organize the last week of concerts at the venue. “[She] would book stuff like Hop Along and Speedy Ortiz and Japanese Breakfast. … It was just like she would get them right before they started to pop off.”

The variety in Papillons' bookings and an all-ages access policy contributed to her success, according to Hadje. He recalled discussing Papillons' booking strategy with her one year at the Independents' Day festival, where they noticed the headliners had all played Double Happiness.

“That was probably a life-changing moment for me in how I approach booking concerts and trying to be more accessible for everybody, trying to diversify our lineups both musically and with people of color, and trans and gay and lesbian and [the] queer community,” Hadje said.

Without the responsibilities of running a bar, Papillons hopes to produce shows elsewhere, but it will be sparingly. Instead, she intends to prioritize spiritual development. Having trained to become a reiki master, she practices the alternative touch-healing treatment in settings like hospitals and the Reiki Center.

“My passion is gravitating more towards awakening people,” said Papillons, who was once touched by the Dalai Lama and subsequently saw a white light. “It's really important for me to … make people feel better and to convince them that vibrational energy is real. … Instead of feeding people spirits, I want them to understand [spirits].”

In addition to educating her “punk rock” friends, Papillons also hopes to travel with bands as a tour manager and perform reiki on them. She's also interested in creating “hertz music,” or music based on vibrating sound waves, which she said has a spiritual impact.

Looking back on her achievements at Double Happiness, Papillons said she strived to create a welcoming environment. “We let everybody be themselves as long as they were good people and weren't racist and they weren't sexist,” she said. “This was a safe space.”

“[People] loved the kitschy vibe of the venue,” Hadje said of the Asian-inspired decorations, which are holdovers from Papillons' former New York apartment (Papillons is of Chinese and Japanese descent). “[Yalan] was more focused on just providing a really cool environment. … And I think it did draw a lot of unique, weird people.”

Papillons also felt she was able to broaden her patrons' horizons.

“I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to make people think differently,” she said. “Most of the people that came here, they had never had anything but Blue Moon and so we're like, ‘[Try] Tangerine Dream.' … That thing is what I'm going to miss the most: Changing the perception of somebody that's so set in their ways to see the world a little bit differently.”

“Polar Entertainment Presents: Who WannaBattle?”

Double Happiness

9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25

482 S. Front St., Brewery District