Tag Archives: bar

A Glamorous, Functional Basement Remodel

August 14, 2017 by
Photography by Tom Grady

Seeking a grand basement remodel, a client came to me with hopes of creating a unified space with smaller intimate areas instead of an open floor plan. The original space felt very disconnected with no visual interest.

My solution focused on two separate spaces of the floor plan. Both sections of the basement would feature multiple functions: one area revolved around a sunken kitchenette/bar, and the other was an empty space transformed into a theater/display area.

The first part of the challenge was to create a properly lit display while providing storage within the bar area. We needed to add a dynamic visual element without altering the integrity of the existing brick veneer.

Our solution was to add horizontal reclaimed wood panels that pull the whole space together while providing a pub-like entertaining area. The resulting contemporary space makes use of layers of depth and dimension to provide a central focal point for social gatherings.

The asymmetrical design of the sunken bar area is enhanced with LED lighting, which further enhances the sophisticated environment. Bespoke finishes infuse rustic charm into the modern basement, forming the perfect union of domestic utility and alluring elegance. Displayed sentimental objects stand in harmonious contrast with time-worn salvaged materials and the interplay of light and shadow.

A large circle on the bar wall offers a crucial design element unifying the space. The scale of the circle balances the weightiness of the massive bar. Radiant light offsets and enhances the circle, giving the illusion that it is floating in air. The circle’s LED under-lit shelves provides plenty of space for the liquor bottles, and the offset shelving allows for additional personal items to be displayed.

By adding the walnut shell and lights to the existing metallic wood console table, it became repurposed and connected to the bar area.

Two guitars on an adjacent wall, mounted on a wooden circle, became a piece of art grounding the empty space leading to the guest bathroom.

To satisfy the clients, who are avid sports fans, the most challenging part of the basement’s theater space was to showcase their collection of jerseys while allowing the ability to watch multiple televisions at once. At the center of this design, I strived to cultivate a sensory experience that transcends the utilitarian functionality of the theater setting. Contemporary aesthetics find a careful balance of personal whims and fancies in the second of the basement’s main spaces. Relaxing here, the homeowners feel like they are in a high-end Las Vegas casino private suite while watching their favorite teams play.

The design conceptualization for the theater and display area stems from a faithful adherence to well-defined boundaries. JaDecor wall covering offers remarkable appearance with excellent acoustical properties. The round custom fiber optics and the dark-oak Melinga panels in the ceiling add spectacular visual interest to the space that once was a rectangle tray.

I really wanted the sports theater walls to properly light their jersey collection—which changes annually—while not interfering with the theater environment. Back-lighting the twelve individual panels with LED strip lights cleverly works into the overall aesthetic. The picture lights illuminate the symmetry of the jerseys and provide a side drop for the TV wall.

The purposeful ornamentation of the jerseys provides a dramatic display satisfying even the most discerning homeowner.

The experience of the finished project is such an amazing space to entertain and enjoy life with family and friends.

From the bar to the theater, and across the entire basement, the overall design embodies simplicity and modern functionality, leaving a lasting impression that makes you want to enjoy the space in good company.

The end result achieves the client’s goal of balancing personal expression and functional glamour with youthful exuberance. It is a welcoming space for any time of the day—and any season—for many years to come.

Visit artisticodesign.net to see more of the designer’s work.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

The Evolution 
of Pop Music

April 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Admittedly, 34-year-old Omaha native Jonathan Tvrdik doesn’t sleep much. Between co-owning Benson’s Krug Park, working as a consultant for his wife Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik’s business Hello Holiday, being a father to 2-year-old son Hugo, directing music videos and commercials, making music, and holding down a day job as both the executive creative director at Phenomblue and head of product design at Rova, there’s not a lot of room for much else. It’s a path he can trace back to childhood.

“When I was a little kid, I played by myself and was always building things,” Tvrdik recalls. “I’m an adult version of that kid who is constantly making new project—like a band, bar, new app, or music video. I’ve always been a goal-oriented person with lots of irons in the fire.”

Ironically, that’s where the inspiration behind the name of Tvrdik’s upcoming solo album came from. Titled Irons, it’s a project over two years in the making and one that took careful crafting with the help of longtime friend and drummer for The Faint Clark Baechle. Busting at the seams with heavy themes of introspection and emotional growth, Irons illustrates a tumultuous period in Tvrdik’s life.

“For better or for worse, that’s where I’ve always been—busy,” he says. “I don’t even know what that has created in me—like who am I as a person? I’ve always been a workhorse, but who am I really? Each song dissects a different thing I am doing or interested in, or a certain vice I have as a result of all the stuff I am working with. It’s a very self-analytical sort of record.”

Beginning with “Something Better” and culminating with “Star Stick,” the 11-track album is like Joy Division meets The Faint, or as Tvrdik describes it, “Frank Sinatra on top of electronica-goth.” It was a true labor of love and Tvrdik really trusted Baechle’s expertise. Some tracks he thought were polished and ready to go; Baechle would hear them and mistakingly refer to them as “demos.” It took the experience of his fine-tuned ear to sew up any loose ends.

“We’ve made a lot music together over the years from a musician and engineer standpoint,” Tvrdik explains. “For this one, we started working through the process of what it was going to look like. I always knew when I was done mixing and recording it on my own, I would take it to him to refine. My producorial technique is very raw. For songs I thought were done and perfect, Clark would be like, ‘I got your demos’ [laughs]. I’m very right brained and he’s very left. I wanted his brain to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and nit pick the hell out of it, which he did. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Although Tvrdik’s music background goes back to The Cog Factory days, where Omaha staples like Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Cursive’s Tim Kasher, and The Faint’s Todd Fink (Baechle’s older brother) got their start in the early ’90s, naturally he’s experienced plenty of evolutionary changes in terms of his musical output. At one point, he was in a hardcore band, and later a noise-based outfit. While he felt he was still emotionally expressive in all of them, it’s with the forthcoming Irons he felt he was truly able to effectively communicate to the listener exactly what he was experiencing.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Transitorily Yours

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a new Encounter column focusing on millennial life by Brent Crampton. To share your significant life experiences, email millennials@omahapublications.com

Today is Jan. 7, 2017, and yesterday I walked out of House of Loom one last time. It was a place that I co-owned, DJed at, and curated events for. The scene I left was only a shell. There were no swirling lights or sounds, no Victorian lounge vibes, and certainly no lively, booze-fueled conversations. Just an echo of the life that filled that place for 5 1/2 years remained (along with the bustle of a construction crew ripping a hole in the wood floor).

Loom was many things to many people, but to me it was a lovely little social experiment that blended cultures, creatives, and communities. Categorically, it was a nightclub and event venue, but to the folks frequenting its experiences, it was a place where patrons and friends could mobilize around causes, express emotions, mourn passings, and celebrate life’s contrasts.

The influx of people was so fluid that you could not distinguish it as a straight or gay bar, but simply as a people’s bar. On its best nights, it brought together folks who normally wouldn’t intersect in our city, and lifted us out of the doldrums of our daily lives.

It is rare for a business to shut down without the force of an unpaid bill. As a friend and fellow small business owner says, it is a gift to be able to close on your own terms. And that is exactly what we did. For myself and the other owners, House of Loom was never meant to be permanent. It was a successful social experiment. And it was time to move on.

I have spent the past 13 years of my life fervently dedicated to contributing to Omaha’s nightlife. With this new year, I embark on a new chapter—one where the loud and flashy peaks of club life are swapped for the quiet joy of watching my 1-year-old baby stand on her own for the first time. Now, spontaneous social gatherings are traded for intimate dinner parties (often planned months in advance). Instead of falling asleep as the sun rises, I wake up  with the sun.

It is a different life—one with its own advantages. My prior life could never hold a candle to this new world. In fact, as I write this, my baby daughter is napping away on my chest after a messy meal of liquified plums, apples, and carrots. She is tuckered out, and so am I.

This brings me to why I am writing this column. During this next chapter of my life, I will be taking some time to hibernate in the creative womb. The invitation to turn to the reflective act of writing seemed like a synchronistic opportunity. Instead of only sharing my notions of creativity and thought from behind a DJ booth, I will gladly be able to do so in this space.

Much like my life right now, I am going to ad-lib my writing. Most likely I will touch on topics ranging from the social impact of nightlife (of course), the curiosities of parenting (because I’m new at this), food (because I get giddy when I eat good food), and inclusiveness and equality (because of our new president), all through the millennial lens of a 30-something, post-nightclub-owning new papa.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Brent Crampton previously co-owned House of Loom and is co-owner of Berry & Rye, a bar in the Old Market. A multi-award-winning DJ in a former life, he now prefers evenings spent at home with his family.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Location Scout and Producer Jamie Vesay

October 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When it comes to shooting video, Jamie Vesay of Omaha is a handler, facilitator, fixer, procurer, and—as his LinkedIn site puts it—“minutia wrangler” and “chaos killer.” He works on television commercials, music videos, and feature films. His location scout credits include Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Downsizing.

Whether doing logistics or scouting locations, Vesay says he is “a creative collaborator” helping filmmakers “realize their vision.” He also aspires to make his own films from scripts and stories he’s writing.

The Pottsville, Pennsylvania, native worked odd jobs back East when he got an interview for the special effects (FX) crew on a 1989 Baltimore film shoot. Vesay’s experience as a machinist provided the fabrication skills needed in the FX profession. That first gig came on Barry Levinson’s major studio project, Avalon.

More FX feature jobs followed, as did a move to Los Angeles, before the work dried up and he relocated to Omaha. His talents made him in-demand on shoots. He added location scouting to his repertoire on projects near and far. Payne’s frequent location manager, John Latenser V, got Vesay day work on About Schmidt. But it wasn’t until Nebraska that Vesay worked extensively with Payne. Latenser couldn’t join the project at the start, so Vesay took the reins.

“You have to have that ability to bob and weave, change and adapt to the director you’re working with. Alexander is so smart about life, let alone the industry. At his core, he’s a guy who will say to you, ‘What do you think?’ And he’s sincere–he wants to know what you think.”

-Jamie Vesay

Vesay broke down the script’s locations. Having scoured the state for years, he had mental and digital files of countless sites. Since the story revolved around a road trip by father-son protagonists Woody and David, an excursion was in order. Payne, production designer Dennis Washington, and Vesay made the Billings, Montana, to eastern Nebraska trek themselves in an SUV. With steering wheel in one hand, 35-millimeter camera in the other, and legal notepad and pen on his lap, Vesay documented possible locations they came upon. Everyone voiced an opinion.

“My goal is to present options to the director,” Vesay says. “Many things we’ll drive by, Alexander will say, ‘OK, slow down, stop the car–I want to look at this.’ Sometimes you let him discover it. Other times you guide him. As I’m presenting the options, he’s seeing what’s available and saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s that.’ He’s a rare filmmaker willing to change with what’s available and use a location different from his original vision.”

The Nebraska script called for a Wyoming truck stop but Payne didn’t like any. With the SUV’s gas tank nearing empty. Vesay pulled into a combo gas station, bait-tackle shop, and bar that Payne loved. On Downsizing, Payne rejected South Omaha duplexes for one of his old haunts, Dundee.

“You have to have that ability to bob and weave, change and adapt to the director you’re working with,” he says. “Alexander is so smart about life, let alone the industry. At his core, he’s a guy who will say to you, ‘What do you think?’ And he’s sincere–he wants to know what you think.”

Vesay found the abandoned farmhouse the family visits in Nebraska. Payne called it “perfect.”

Instinct and experience help Vesay find things. Besides, he says, “I know where they’re hiding.”

A location’s look might be right, but it must also safely accommodate cast and crew. Access, sight lines, and noise are other considerations.

Choosing locations is just the start. Protocols require filmmakers to secure signed permission from property owners. During production Vesay does owner relations.

Looking to the future, Vesay urges the state to do more to attract film projects that provide steady work to local professionals.

Visit jamievesay.com for more information.

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Wood & Pipe Table

October 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometimes you can find a solution to a problem just by taking a long walk. Dagmar and Jeff Benson, who live in a lakeside property at scenic Hawaiian Village, needed more table space for entertaining in their basement. Dagmar searched the usual places, but never found anything large enough for their needs.

Jeff spied a pile of long-abandoned boards near the dock while taking a stroll through his neighborhood. He suspected the boards would be the perfect material to construct the tables that Dagmar saw on Pinterest.

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“I think we can power wash this and clean it up and see how it looks,” he says.

The couple have four grown children and anticipate that their family will grow in size. “Living on a lake, we entertain a lot, so we wanted something that we could use for a buffet table for when we have parties,” Dagmar says.

They love hosting Huskers parties. “Jeff wanted to put a big red N right in the middle, but I nixed that idea right away,” she says.

The couple’s love of creating comes from spending a lot of time on computers for their professions.

“I work mostly with a computer and spreadsheets and numbers,” says Dagmar, a program control analyst. “What I like to do in my spare time is anything that has to do with design, art, and decorating.”

After power washing, they set the pieces of wood outside to dry in the sun. Next, Jeff cut them with a chainsaw so they measured four-and-a-half feet long. “We had a total of four pieces. Two for each table,” she says. Dagmar didn’t sand them much because she liked their natural color. She finished them with a coat of polyurethane.

Next, Jeff attached metal straps to the underside of the table to secure the wood pieces together. Their son, Chris, painted the ¾-inch, galvanized piping legs with two coats of flat black Rust-Oleum.

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“We just bought sections of those that fit together for the length we wanted,” Jeff says. The legs are made of an 18-inch section joined with a T-connector, and then a 10-inch section topped off with a ¾-inch floor flange that connects to the underneath of the table. The feet are covered with a ¾-inch cap that screws onto the piping. Dagmar estimates it took them 10 hours and $100 in materials for each table.

The tables are a perfect addition to an inviting basement that has been a work-in-progress for the couple since they moved in more than 10 years ago. “We did a stained concrete floor. We put in a spiral staircase. We had French doors put in,” Dagmar says. And so it continues.

 

 

Next DIY project on the agenda for the Bensons? They plan to use some of the leftover wood to build shelves for a hip, new bar area. Cheers to that!

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A Night at The Max

January 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Here are the town eccentrics, the artists, the kings and queens of drag, those who love to dance and those attempting to hook up. Here are the civilized, but just as often the debauchers and hedonists, the flat-out jerks, and, at certain times, the tittering bachelorette bacchanals and the best and worst of Husker fandom.

This is the Omaha that dies every Monday morning, then rises again on weekend nights. And they flock to a distinct dance club in droves, all of them, proving—contrary to a well-worn blurb The New York Times issued once upon a time—The Max is no longer the place to be on Saturday nights. It’s the place where everyone is on Saturday nights.

And tonight, I am one of them.

“People coming to The Max for the first time think we just recently opened,” says Stosh Moran, one of the club’s staple personalities and partner of owner Bruce Barnard. “There’s a full crew working during the day to keep The Max looking fresh and new. Bruce is constantly ordering new lights and keeping on top of what’s new and trending.”

It’s too dark to tell, but I think I’ve discovered the lekking grounds of an ancient cult. That is, until a strobe flare overpowers a darkness flecked with polychromatic pin spots and lasers. I’m in the disco hall, the club’s most popular room, and a heavy fog of human flesh has been revealed. The air is surprisingly sweet, despite the stagnant humidity generated from perspiring bodies. I move amongst the movement, but I’m not drunk enough yet to dance.

The blast of light expires and a throng of swaying silhouettes returns. A shirtless man tugs at the bulge in another man’s jeans, drawing him in closer. Two women grind arrhythmically as their mouths attempt to meet, and the hands of a middle-aged man trace the curves of a middle-aged woman’s body. The dance floor doesn’t discriminate.

“No funny business, but can I touch your beard?” a young disciple of loosened inhibitions asks. “Just once. Seriously, no funny business.”

“Okay,” I say, because, you know, I’m at The Max, and at what other time can I entertain such an odd request?

As he pets my face, I close my eyes and dissolve into the soundscape, which is loud and hypnotic. “Turn Down For What” segues into a remix of “Baby Got Back” to the tune, or rather rhythm, of “Shots.” My foot inadvertently taps to the chanting of “Butts,” but I’m less entranced by the Top-40 pop of yore than the pulsating kick drum that accompanies every tune. It’s the heart of the club, the bringer of life. The same thump that I had felt under 15th Street as I made my way on foot to the multiplex.

“I remember being shocked by the sheer breadth of it—the multiple rooms, multiple DJs, and endless bars,” says Homorazzi blogger, Nic Opp, who reviewed The Max last year. “I think in the gay communities across North America, we’re more used to seeing the traditional dive bar that we have all mostly grown so fond of. In major cities, you see the bigger spaces as expected, but it was completely unexpected of Omaha as an outsider.”

I retreat to a room called the Arena, which radiates the sensation of slow motion, especially after experiencing the disco hall. Here, the contrast of bright and dark dissolves to an ocher dim. Hip-hop plays at half-volume and half-speed, and a small, esoteric cult pantomimes carnal rhythms on the showroom stage. I’m a convert, but only in spirit, for I’ve found a comfortable spot at the bar. Oh, and more importantly I’ve found God, or a real-life bartender that acknowledges I exist.

This, of course, is not an indictment on the club’s service, but a testament to the capacity they host. And what with the wild pack of rum-thirsty bros roaming the facility at all hours, it’s amazing that anyone gets a drink at all. But The Max gives us all the sort of room we need to find relief from our working lives, whether it be in the main floor lounge, the upstairs billiards lounge, the outdoor garden, the disco hall or the Arena.

“It’s unlike any other environment in Omaha,” says Mike Mogler, who isn’t afraid to take his shirt down a few buttons and leave it all on the dance floor. “It’s a place to be yourself and have as much fun as possible. It’s also the best place to dance in Nebraska!”

Taxi’s Grille and Bar

October 24, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Veteran Omaha restaurateur and chef Malcolm (Mac) Thompson opened Taxi’s in 2002 with the late Bill Johnette after their successful run at the much-celebrated Neon Goose. Over the years Taxis’s has also enjoyed considerable achievement and now Mac’s godson, Chase Thomsen, has taken over as Executive Chef. I had not been to Taxi’s for a while, so I decided to make a trip over there and see what’s cooking.

From the outside Taxi’s is not overly impressive, just another Omaha strip mall restaurant. Once inside it becomes obvious that great care is taken to keep this restaurant in top condition with a comfortable, casual, friendly, neighborhood vibe. All of the artwork, tables, chairs, serviceware, and other furnishings are above average quality and look much newer than the dozen years the restaurant has been open. The restrooms are also very impressive and clean. It may sound a little strange to a lay reader, but foodies know you can tell a lot about a restaurant and its operators by the condition of the restrooms.

Now for the best part of Taxi’s…the food! While many of the dishes on the menu spark memories from past dinners at Taxi’s, Chef Chase’s influence on the menu can be seen with several new dishes and some really creative specials. The wine list is well curated. Not too big. Not too small. There are some real gems on that list, and since I was in on Wednesday, all bottles were half price!

I went with the Troublemaker Blend from Paso Robles, Calif. ($20). It was excellent and went pretty well with everything I tried. They also have a full bar and nice beer selections. The service at Taxi’s has always been top-notch, and this visit was no exception.

 

 

 

My dining partner and I started off with the Waffle Fries ($8) and the Dijon Shrimp ($10). The Waffle Fries are basically a creative take on a poutine with a creamy chipotle sauce and melted Gorgonzola cheese. I can sum this one up in one word. Yum! The Dijon Shrimp is served escargot-style in a rich garlic butter topped with bubbling cheese and a crusty French baguette to sop up the butter.

I love this dish because it gives people a chance to see how divine a traditional escargot tastes without having to eat snails in the process, which is a put-off for many people.

I couldn’t have a meal at Taxi’s without having some of their Cabbage and Blue Cheese Soup ($4). This dish never ceases to amaze me. For an entrée, I tried one of the three specials in ordering Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp ($22). These large, grilled shrimp were stuffed with a sliver of jalapeno and wrapped with thick, crispy bacon before being served over Spanish-style rice and topped with a fresh mango salsa.

It was a fantastic combination.

My dining partner went the more traditional route and ordered the Beef Pot Roast ($16) off the menu. This is covered in a rich gravy and is served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, sauteed zucchini, carrots, and squash. This could very well be the best pot roast in Omaha. For dessert we sampled the Wild Berry Cobbler ($6). This scratch-made cobbler was served à la mode and was the perfect ending to another stellar meal at Taxi’s.

Many years ago when I was new in town someone told me that Taxi’s is the best neighborhood restaurant in Omaha. That’s a pretty tall order, but in my experience there is a lot of truth to that statement.

Go give it a try and see for yourself! Cheers!

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On a Lark

October 23, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Between running errands, picking up the kids from school, grocery shopping and work, it’s difficult for a woman to find some time for herself. Thankfully, if you have an hour and you happen to be near 120th and Blondo, a good spur-of-the-moment pampering just got a lot easier.

Lark Blow Dry Studio is the first of its kind in Omaha and focuses on only one thing: Blowouts. “That concept is huge on the east and west coasts,” says Sara Slimp, Lark’s founder. “By only doing blowouts, it allows us a lot of flexibility for our clients. We’re here to do one thing and to do it well.”

A blowout, for those who don’t know, includes a wash, a blow-dry, and a style of your choice: anything from straight as a board to beach waves or curls. Keep in mind that blowouts aren’t just for feeling pampered. Lark caters to women who want a sleek style for dates, job interviews, business functions, and more.

Unlike many hair studio and spa owners around the Omaha metro, Slimp doesn’t have a background in cosmetology. Laughing, she confesses that she’s actually an accountant by trade. Prior to opening Lark, she had worked in corporate America. While she loved her time there, she was ready for something different.

Slimp says she has a bucket list of things she wishes to accomplish in her lifetime. After leaving her last job, the universe aligned with her decision to open a blow-dry studio. “It just kept happening,” Slimp says. “I found a location. I got a loan. All of a sudden I owned a blow dry studio.” Slimp adds that her background in accounting has been a huge asset for starting a new business.

The studio certainly is a welcoming space. The vibe lingers somewhere between funky and glamorous, yet casual. When you arrive, you’re even offered a tablet, allowing you to read magazines while you wait or as you get your hair done.

“Eventually they set it aside,” Sara mentions. “We don’t take time in our culture to just sit and be. Here, there’s not anyone pulling on you or demanding anything from you. And women need that.  The next time women come in they don’t even ask for a tablet.”

Be warned, ladies: If you’re seeking a cut and color in addition to your blow dry, you won’t find that at Lark. Blowouts, which are $40, are the salon’s only offering. Slimp says that keeping things simple gives her more flexibility when working with their clients. Appointments, even those made the day of a desired blow out, are easily bookable from your computer or phone. “When you’re a mom, self-care is so important,” Slimp says. “No matter where you’re at in life—a caregiver, a mom, a busy professional—taking an hour for yourself and getting your hair done makes you feel good.”

Wilson & Washburn

September 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Anna Wilson’s brothel made her the “Queen of the Underworld” in Wild West Omaha before she bequeathed her fortune to charity. Josie Washburn—who would later write a book about her life between the sheets—was Anna’s top practitioner of the world’s oldest profession in the house of ill repute situated in what was then known as the city’s Sporting District—a festering cesspool of gambling, prostitution, and all manner of vice. Today their infamous names live on at Wilson & Washburn on Harney Street along the western edge of the Old Market.

“We’re a neighborhood bar,” explains Jeff Luby, who owns the business with his wife, Faith. “We just happen to be one with a great selection of specialty beers, craft cocktails, and elevated bar food.”

Because brothels once carried the euphemistic label of “comfort stations,” the owners incorporated that notion into the bar’s tagline, “A Serious Comfort Station.”

“We specialize in comfort food,” Faith adds, “but with a twist. Nothing too fancy. Nothing overly pricey.”

Wilson & Washburn’s signature Beet Chips are a case in point when it comes to simplicity at its best. Wafer-thin slices of the vegetable are prepared in the same way as their potato-based cousins, but a splash of malt vinegar and a sprinkle of flaked salt transforms this most humble of dishes into something wholly—and yummily—“other.”

Their not-your-grandma’s-Mac-and-Cheese boasts a carefully curated amalgam of Chevre, buffalo mozzarella, smoked Gouda, and bleu cheese in a truffle panko crust. The Rueben features brisket that is smoked on-site and is topped by house-cured sauerkraut and a beet horseradish sauce sandwiched between hearty Russian rye. Jeff says he’ll bet that diners will place his Fish & Chips against the best in town. And the Beet Burger (there’s that brightly hued orb again) is a favorite among vegans and meat-lovers alike.

“Everything is made from scratch,” Jeff says before Faith adds, “Our food services truck deliveries are pretty light in their load here. We’re an easy stop for them. We don’t need from them what a lot of other restaurants choose to source from them. We have to, for example, get our milk from somewhere, but most everything coming out of our kitchen is of our own making.”

Operating out of a 19th-century building that once housed a purveyor of rat poison, the mahogany-clad space uses subtle décor elements in a nod to whorehouse chic. A mezzanine-level private party space appropriately dubbed the Madam’s Lounge is demarcated by blood-red, damask curtains in a pattern that screams “bordello.” Vintage tintype photographs depict bygone bar patrons in frisky scenes that are naughty without being too risqué. The eerie bat motif once used to illustrate the cover of Washburn’s book, The Underworld Sewer: A Prostitute Reflects on Life in the Trade, is replicated in the upper reaches of the building’s towering, curbside windows.

The space, which opened a little over a year ago, has quickly become a favorite among the Orpheum Theater and Holland Performing Arts Center crowds. Whether as a place for a tastily accessible pre-show meal or for post-curtain noshing and conversation, Wilson & Washburn offers a vibe that is at once comfy and sophisticated—just like Anna Wilson’s legendary brothel.

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The Tavern

March 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Before September, potential patrons looking to get a drink might have stopped just short of The Tavern—not realizing that a bar was down the street. However, after a few renovations and a name change, patrons can now clearly see the updated bar.

Formerly The Old Market Tavern, the bar has changed more than just its name since David Kerr and Dave Haverkamp purchased it in July. One of the most unique changes is the addition of a 105-year-old Brunswick bar.

“It was in the Muehlebach Hotel, and Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and every president from when it was installed until Ronald Reagan stayed at that hotel when they were in Kansas City, so you have to assume that many of them probably sat down at that bar,” Haverkamp says.

Still, the addition of the historic bar was only part of the changes the duo made. In a whirlwind six days, Kerr and Haverkamp closed down the bar to begin renovations that included getting rid of a platform that split the bar in half lengthways, creating a congested area for guests trying to get a drink.

“We had the floor redone as well,” Kerr says, “and we brought in church pews as a part of the furnishings, and we took a wall down as well in the back. It was like a small dart room, so we knocked that wall down, and we renovated the bathrooms as well. It was a diet of pizza and Red Bull just to get through the six days, but it was good.”

Kerr, who has a background in both hospitality and marketing, also decided to light the awning outside and revamp The Tavern’s logo to give the bar a more modern feel. Kerr added a colored, flashing LED light above the logo as well so that patrons can see the bar from 10th Street.

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Both Kerr and Haverkamp took a bartending class in South Beach to revamp their bartending skills. They usually bartend once or twice a week now at The Tavern, but bartending or not, they’re at the bar every day talking to customers. They claim it’s their favorite part of the day. Both owners are proud of their famous Moscow Mule and hope to add more specialty cocktails and perhaps even a food menu. But they’re most excited about the Scottish soda-infused cocktails.

“There’s a soda from Scotland which outsells Coca-Cola, and I’ve had that shipped over from Scotland,” Kerr says, “so we can actually start using it in cocktails. You can’t miss it. It’s bright orange.”

When Kerr and Haverkamp bought The Tavern last July, they ran the bar the way it was for two months to learn about the customers and to get a feel for what changes needed to be made. One result of this observation period was to change the name only slightly from The Old Market Tavern to simply The Tavern. “The reason why we didn’t completely change the name is because we really want this to be kind of a local place to go. That’s how we envisioned it,” Haverkamp says. “Yeah, it’s a neighborhood bar, but we wanted it to be homey. But the products are good, and the cocktails are good, and you know…we offer something a little bit different,” Kerr says.