Behind the Bar

Riding Out a Renovation

Veterans of these six bars lived to tell about the challenges of major make-overs.
The new bar at Craft & Commerce in San Diego was almost a year in the making.
The new bar at Craft & Commerce in San Diego was almost a year in the making. (Photo: Craft & Commerce)

Renovating a bar takes enormous vision, a thoroughly detailed plan of action and, of course, appropriate funding. From there, executing the project requires a certain panache, a “let it roll off your back” mentality for all those inevitable hiccups.

We spoke to some people behind renovations at six bars to get the scoop on budgets, setbacks and timelines.

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The Craft & Commerce bar before renovations. The Craft & Commerce bar before renovations. (Photo: Craft & Commerce)

Craft & Commerce, San Diego

Budget: Multimillion dollars.

Length of Renovation: Craft & Commerce closed for renovations on Sept. 8, 2015 and re-opened on Sept. 6, 2016. The goal was to have the renovation completed by the summer, but it ended up taking several months longer than anticipated.

Biggest Hurdle: “Craft & Commerce is located at the bottom story of a mixed-use building, so there is more to manage and be careful of during construction when you are sharing the building,” noted Arsalun Tafazoli, co-founder of CH Projects, which oversaw the renovation. “In addition to that, we acquired an extra 1,000 square feet of space that allowed us to expand our concept and create False Idol — a hidden tiki bar — within the space. A majority of the new design of Craft & Commerce and False Idol was custom built and took time to build and fabricate.”

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The Butcher Block renovations took eight months. The Butcher Block renovations took eight months. A before shot is below. (Photo: Butcher Block)

Butcher Block Restaurant, Plattsburgh, New York

The owner of the Butcher Block wanted to update this tired, outdated look. Budget: $300,000, and $280,000 was spent.

Length of Renovation: It took eight months to do the renovation, including six months of design and planning and two months of actual construction.

Biggest Hurdle: “The primary goal was to address a tired space in an underutilized salad bar area, and to improve an already bustling business, taking direction from trends in guest spending, and maintaining charm with nooks, niches and archways that mirrored the original custom brick work,” said owner Brian White. “Strong bar sales made the expansion of the bar space necessary, and the designer –- Brendan Flanigan of Flanigan Interiors, Inc. — came up with a plan to break into a bright, sunny room and create ‘a more cohesive experience for guests,’ where the light and decor were consistent, inviting and spacious.”

Says Flanigan, “The renovation was planned to update the aesthetic and broaden the guest experiences in a building that has many of the original finishes. The perils of touching an old building created more work on the electrical and structural, and the opportunity was used to update the building’s infrastructure. We used modern wood finishes to speak to the charm of the brand, while doing it in a totally modern way, transforming the space with context for the loyal clientele.”

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The owners of Fleming's Mayfair had to strengthen the foundation of the building to pull off their renovations. The owners of Fleming's Mayfair had to strengthen the foundation of the building to pull off their renovations. (Photo: Flemings Mayfair)

Flemings Mayfair, London

Budget: $20 million (USD equivalent)

Length of Renovation: “The pre-planning took about one year, and then the actual renovation lasted from January 2016 to August 2016, so about seven months,” said general manager of the bar, Henrik Muehle. “Because we had spent time at the planning stage, we expected the actual renovation work to be finished sooner. The project was delayed by a couple of months due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Biggest Hurdle: “Underpinning the walls, which is the process used to strengthen the foundation of the building. In order to make the bar level with the restaurant, we had to lower the floor in the bar area. This compromised the actual foundation in this area, and we therefore had to carry out underpinning in order to support the walls and integrity of the building,” said Muehle.

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Raising more money than you think you'll need is important, the owner of the Riddler says. Here's a before (left) and after look. Raising more money than you think you'll need is important, the owner of the Riddler says. Here's a before (left) and after look. (Photo: Kassie Borreson)

The Riddler, San Francisco

Budget: My overall pre-opening budget for everything — key money, architecture and design, FF&E [furniture, fixtures and equipment], utilities upgrades, legal and permits, our wine inventory, contingency, etc. was $500,000, and we ended up just north of that at right around $600,000,” said owner Jen Pelka. “We ended up taking on a bit of last minute capital to make it possible, and I'm glad that we invested in what we needed to get everything started properly. I can't stress enough how important it is to raise more than you think you'll need.”

Length of Renovation: The renovation began on Oct. 1, 2016, and was complete by Jan. 15, 2017, so about three months. Says Pelka, “I've been dreaming about opening a Champagne bar for at least 10 years. I first had my offer to take over the space accepted in October 2015, but the tenants who occupied the space dug their heels in and didn't want to leave. It took a full year, until October 2016, until we were able to actually take over the space. We moved in right away and got to work on the renovation immediately.”

Biggest Hurdle: “We're in an old building that dates back to 1912, and so I'll just say that the space is very quirky. We had to get creative with electrical, plumbing and all of those boring infrastructure things that none of our guests see. We have some really heavy and bulky refrigeration that had to get lowered through a trap door along the side of the building and I wasn't sure if everything would make it. But it did! We made it, and here we are,” said Pelka.

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Preservation of plasterwork and molding helped stretch renovations at Cavan through an entire year. Preservation of plasterwork and molding helped stretch renovations at Cavan through an entire year. (Photo: Sarah Essex Bradley)

Cavan, New Orleans

Budget: Undisclosed

Length of Renovation: “The renovation itself took a full year for the construction and restoration work. However, we were working on the permitting through the Historic Districts and Landmarks Commission for a full year prior to the start of the construction,” said Robert LeBlanc, owner of LeBlanc+Smith, the hospitality company behind Cavan. “We thought the process would be fairly simple and straightforward, maybe taking six months tops. Boy, how we were wrong. Because the renovation and restoration was more involved than we initially thought, we definitely exceeded our budget. However, to get the space exactly the way we wanted — and to uphold the historical integrity of the house — it was 100 percent worth expanding the budget.”

Biggest Hurdle: “Our primary goal was to both preserve a piece of New Orleans’ history while also making it an edgy and fun atmosphere where it would feel like we were hosting a house party in an opulent mansion,” noted LeBlanc. “The most delicate aspect was the preservation of all the beautiful, original plasterwork and molding. The arches and decorative features were very ornate and very brittle. There are very few people with the experience to do this type of work, and those that are capable have very booked schedules.”

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Owners at Public House spent almost $250,000 on audio-visual equipment updates. Owners at Public House spent almost $250,000 on audio-visual equipment updates. (Before, left, and after.) (Photo: Public House)

Public House, Chicago

Budget: “Overall, we completed almost $1 million in renovations. We ended up going deliberately over budget when mid-construction we decided to add almost a quarter million dollars in audio video updates. Among them was an LED video wall and updated club quality sound and deejay equipment,” said the bar’s owner, David Rekhson.

Length of Renovation: ”In total, the renovation took three months. We started in the beginning of January 2016 and finished by late March,” said Rekhson. “The renovation was carefully orchestrated and done in phases so that we were able to keep various parts of the restaurant operational while others underwent construction.”

Biggest Hurdle: “The biggest hiccup came while trying to remain operational during the construction project,” said Rekhson. “Operating one-half of the 10,000-square foot restaurant while the other was in the middle of construction was challenging.”

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