It is just 15 minutes after opening, and Deep Dive, located at 415 Old Taughannock Blvd, is already buzzing. On one evening, the act is contemporary soul group The Nth Power. The drummer is sound checking up on the stage for the show in just under three hours while the few groups of early patrons are seated outside on the back deck with the sun and the new spring warmth. Deep Dive’s owner, TJ Schaper ’13, is out there with them, donning sunglasses. Schaper said he is proud of this location’s history.
“This room is very special to me,” Schaper said. “I’ve played here probably over 100 times.”
Schaper is a local musician. His band used to play on weekly reggae nights at this location back when it was called “Castaways.” Now he owns the place and books multiple shows a week.
Deep Dive had its grand opening Sept. 6 along the waterfront of the Cayuga Lake Inlet, a location rich with live music history. The location started as “Salty Dog” back in 1971. After a series of ownership changes and eight name changes, Schaper has been bringing live music acts to this location for half a year now.
“I don’t know what’s happening; it’s very draining, but at the same time, it’s very fulfilling,” Schaper said. “And I’m excited; we didn’t really have much warm weather when we opened, but now we’re about to blast through the summer.”
When Deep Dive opened, it served typical bar food, but as the winter was wrapping up, Schaper decided to change up the approach. The kitchen was breaking even, but running the food side of things proved to be too much for Schaper to handle.
“It was just so much to manage,” Schaper said. “The winter months came and we were like, ‘Are we really trying to do this?’ Because once it gets cold here, people kind of go into hibernation. … My vote was ‘no.’”
Now Deep Dive is moving to a new approach: a partnership with the Fittnell Barbeque food truck. The team at Fittnell will now be serving food out of the Deep Dive kitchen. The partnership soft-launched on April 15.
Jacob Marnell, one half of the duo that is Fittnell Barbeque, reached out to Schaper after some other food trucks did pop-ups at Deep Dive. Marnell asked if it was still doing pop-ups, and Schaper said they would love for someone to just do it all the time. Marnell had been looking for commercial space for more than a year at this point, and Schaper needed a change in how the Deep Dive kitchen was run.
“They already have the space, they have a kitchen in it, so I can basically rent just a kitchen and put food out to people,” Marnell said. “This opportunity just perfectly aligned where we were looking; they were looking, and it happened to work out so far.”
The new menu hasn’t been solidified, but the current arrangement has bar food served on Thursdays and Fridays with an expanded barbeque menu on Saturdays. Marnell has been cooking for about 10 years and has run the Fittnell Barbeque business for five years.
“It’s more Kansas City, a little Memphis inspired, while kind of sticking to some of the traditional Texas barbecue aspects depending on the cut,” Marnell said. “I like to keep brisket a little bit more traditional and pork and chicken a little bit more our style.”
Unlike the many 21-and-up music venues of similar sizes in Ithaca, Deep Dive is an 18-and-up venue, which means it is open to most college students, making the location multigenerational and inclusive. Schaper said he is committed to upholding an environment that is welcoming, safe and accepting — an environment that can be felt the moment you walk through the entrance.
“The staff was all super welcoming,” sophomore Katie Miller said. “Especially since I’m not 21 yet either. It felt really nice to be able to go into a bar and be fine.”
Schaper said he sees the social environment of Ithaca as an “intergenerational hang,” and he wants Deep Dive to become a place where younger people can get experience in the adult setting of a bar. The wide range of different musical acts brought in and the casual, accepting setting make Deep Dive a place for discovery.
“They have a lot of different kinds of music, a lot of different shows there, and it seems like the place is just non-judgmental,” Miller said. “I don’t feel left out not having gone to a bar or a club before, because now there is a place where I can go and get the similar kind of experience while being underage.”
And it’s not just the patrons: Deep Dive occasionally brings in younger acts to perform, many of them student bands from Ithaca College or Cornell University.
“There’s been some young college bands where I see the minivan pull up and the doors slide open and all these 18-year-olds fall out of it, but that’s awesome because there’s nowhere else for young people to do that,” Schaper said. “It’s very important that young people have something to do that’s not just roaming around or whatever.”
Deep Dive is keeping Ithaca’s rich live music history alive at this historic location, perpetuating Ithaca as an epicenter for cultural growth and movement. Schaper’s time in Ithaca as a student, a musician and now a business owner has fueled his dedication to the city.
“So many people pass through Ithaca at some point, some come back,” Schaper said. “There’s so many things you can dislike, but then you just can’t get out of your skin; there’s something that always keeps you here.”