Eclectic music in the 585
Picture eggplant-colored theater drapery against metal accents and inviting iron tones. It’s slightly regal but more playful. Then add in top-notch hospitality from some of the best in the business and a killer sound system—welcome to Essex, Rochester’s newest indoor music venue, opening October 6.
Dave Drago (owner of 1809 Studios), and Zack Mikida and Mack Hartman (partners with SCN Hospitality), came together to create a space different from any other in the area. SCN owns Rochester favorites The Revelry, Ziggy’s, and Bitter Honey, to name a few, and any local can speak to the niche aesthetic of each location. Blending Drago’s talents in the music industry with Mikida and Hartman’s imagery and hospitality is the perfect recipe for a beautiful experience for artists and guests. But what really makes this venue a game changer is the gap it’s filling in Rochester’s music market.
“I wouldn’t be involved in this venue if I thought there was another venue in town doing the same exact thing,” Drago says. “This is truly a little sweet spot that is underserved. There are a lot of smaller venues in Rochester, and we’re not looking to take away from that, but I’ve always said there’s a Rochester-sized hole in the mid-size market.”
But how did this idea come about in the first place? Their friendship started two years ago when Mikida’s band hired Drago to work on a record. Fast forward to March 2023, Mikida and Hartman found a space they thought would make a great music venue and asked Drago to check it out.
“My response was, ‘Yeah, I’ll come down, but I don’t want anything to do with this,’” Drago says. “I’ve had a lot of different hats in my twenty-year music business career, and for five years, I was the general manager of a concert venue on Keuka Lake.
We built it from the ground up, but I didn’t want to make that my full-time gig. So, I went back to the studio and was happy for five months—until Zack hit me up.”
From the moment Drago pulled up to the space, he was hooked. There was tons of free parking, which is hard to come by in Rochester, and the location couldn’t be beat. The real sinker, though, was the conversation he had with Mikida and Hartman.
“I was taken with the space, but the more the conversation went on, the more it made sense—these guys do something really well at SCN, and I have always respected this organization,” Drago says. “Their establishments are all different, and they’re personal. The fact that a proper restaurant hospitality group was interested in investing their money into a concert venue was unique, and that was compelling to me too.”
The roughly thousand-capacity standing room venue serves all audiences in Rochester. The grand opening on October 6 and 7 will feature the incomparable Danielle Ponder.
“She’s become a . . . powerhouse of a talent and is widely respected for her musicality and what she’s done politically for Rochester—she’s a champion of the 585. To have her bless the stage and send us on the road is really important to all of us,” Mikida says.
“It’s going to be a really eclectic lineup,” Drago continues. “We want to do it all. We don’t care what you look like or what kind of music you’re into—if there’s a market for it in Rochester, and other venues aren’t serving it up, then we want to be that place.”
Located at 1048 University Avenue, the space used to be a car dealership that sold the Essex Coach—hence the name of the venue. It’s classic, feels good, and keeps a piece of Rochester history alive. Close to Mullers Cider House, Tony D’s, Black Button Distilling, the Revelry, Three Heads Brewing, Living Roots, and Nosh, it’s located on that artery of University where thousands of cars pass each day on a direct line to 490.
“Three Heads [Brewing] does a killer job supporting local acts; so to be able to feed off of that is really exciting,” Mikida says. “That’s also one of the joys of this location—we’re in this little economic bubble of commerce, specifically around hospitality and going out and enjoying your night.”
The group has geeked out on all the little details in the venue, making the design personal and unique. On the technical side, in terms of audio and lighting, it simply can’t get better. Essex is working with a company called Audio Images—a Rochester institution that’s been around for nearly thirty years.
“When we asked if they’d like to figure out how we could do this together, they rolled out the red carpet for us, and we were able to design this incredible sound system. The quality of all those inputs and everything is massive,” Drago says. “It’s going to be an experience for the listener,” Mikida adds.
The group is most excited about bringing more events to Rochester and providing a unique environment to the city.
“Rochester has had a hole in its heart for a while—there really isn’t a venue of the size that we’re creating. Rochester people will travel to Ithaca or Buffalo for a show, and I think it’s time this city became the destination. We’ve had great acts here, but why not grow off of it and give the people of Rochester what they deserve, which is a great music scene,” Hartman says.
Information on Essex’s events, shows, and tickets can be found on the website at essexroc.com.