Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Word on Avalon Bar: A Q&A with Syd Leonard

How did Avalon Bar begin?

Avalon was created by my partner of 16 years, Mike Conley.  The bar has been established for eight and a half years. Before then, the Avalon bar was the dive of all dive bars. We always had our eye on this spot.  We thought the building was neat and had a cool, sixties vibe.  So we were always poking around.   For a couple of years we poked. Then the day came, I spied the  “For Lease” banner.  So I called Mike and said you won’t believe this, the bar is for lease.  I left a message, we got the call back…Voila! became bar owners.

That was around eight years ago all this happened?

June 18, 2003 was day the Avalon doors opened.  We signed the lease in January of that same year.  Then we had to go through the ABC ‘cause we had to get everything documented and transferred over.  That was when they said, ‘By the way, the beer and wine license was revoked.’  And we were like, ‘Whaaat?’

The license was revoked with the previous owner?

Yeah, because she never paid her fees.  Basically we went into nothing, we had bought a building.  It wasn’t even a bar at that point of our purchase. So this was when the phrase “never say never” came in to play.  So we went to the City and told them, ‘We just bought this building and we thought it was an active bar. The City frowned on the idea of another bar on the Westside. So we decided to win them over and make it happen.  It took us about six months, we proved ourselves to the City, and we got our beer and wine license—a license with many conditions attached, one being only allowed to stay open until 11pm.

You weren’t allowed to stay open until 1:30am?

No.  5pm to 11pm. We decided to coordinate our business hours with Detroit, which is across the street from us. So our hours were at that time 8:30pm to 11pm.  There is not a whole lot of foot traffic, on that part of town.  Lots of riff-raff…

Creepy drunkards?

So that’s why we’re open later.  We ended up extending our hours.  The whole idea behind this place was more for Mike.  I was his co-pilot.  I took care of the interior part of running the business, paying the bills and such.  I bartended here and there.  We had a lot of fun creating the soju cocktails.  Soju is a great loop-hole for beer/wine establishments to make money on.

Are both of you from the area originally?

Mike was from Vegas.  I’m from around these parts.  We met at Woody’s Wharf.  He was a bartender, and I was the sweet, little hostess (laughs).

That’s cute that you worked together.

He had a habit of flirting with me, and the next thing you know, we were together.  Then I went to college up North, moved back, we had kids,  bought the bar.
Tell me about starting out on this venture on your own.

Well, after Mike’s death, life was a bit overwhelming.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It took me about four months to get comfortable going into the bar.  I was scared for a while. The hardest part was just getting used to being there without him. Next was trying to run it as a business, and not get so involved in the social part.  There were a lot of people—friends, patrons of Avalon, dj’s and such—around during that time,  when I was beginning to run the bar on my own.  Everyone was so caring and supportive. It was and still is greatly appreciated.

It’s tough when it’s a bar and everyone is going there to party.

You have to find that fine line, at least I had too. Things are better now.

Gabe seems to be a big help too.  When did he begin working at the bar?

Gabriel is a dear friend.  He had a big part in helping me build the confidence I needed running the bar and has helped me out tremendously. He got involved, I believe in the fall of 2008.  He was around intermittently, for a while. Then began to spend a lot of his time helping out with many of the upgrades. The bar never had a sign. So, that was one of the first upgrades, I like to call it.   Mike never wanted a sign.  He wanted the bar to be word-of-mouth, like a little speakeasy.  I understood it at the time, and I still get it.  People want to go to a place where it’s cooler to be not-cool (laughs).  Gabriel and I came up with the little arrow sign and I love it.  My sign is cool.

It’s still subtle.

It’s subtle and I think it suits the bar and the area, plus the City really wanted us to have a sign.  So everyone is happy.  Heck, I bet Mike even likes the sign .

He was the sign for Avalon.

Yes, I believe so. He was quite the social butterfly.  He liked hanging out at the bar.  It did make a difference for sure, with him being there.  I’m a social butterfly, but I was hanging out at the parks instead.  It took some time. A lot of figuring out how the heck, I was going to raise a family, and run a bar on my own. I can’t sit and talk with someone until 2 am and play it cool the next day. 

Having kids produces a totally different personal world.

I have a lot of fun with my girls, and I’m super happy now with the bar.

What did it take for you to get to that point?

I don’t know what it took.  I think I realized, that this is my livelihood and my kids need shoes.   I know a bit more about the business and always learning.  I find the more energy I put into booking the nights with live entertainment.  The bar benefits and so does everyone else.  Most of the time.

It’s all about breeding positive relationships then?

Yes.  I believe the Avalon has been a hub for many dj’s and bands from our local community that are now playing larger venues and making the big time.  I’m pretty proud of that.  They just better not forget about the Avalon bar.  Facebook has been a great tool for promoting and booking shows…I find that one has to be quite skilled to keep up with that.

All the media is difficult to keep updated, especially when the media is updating so quickly itself.

I wasn’t to fond of Facebook when I first learned about it.  It was very overwhelming.  But now, we are friends.
That’s how media has continued to evolve.

Yes.  I do believe that you just do what’s comfortable and what works for you.  I try to keep our page pretty humble. Crazy and nasty can be ok too. I think people come back to the Avalon, because its cozy, intimate, and chill, with an occasional pants-off party.  Now that the bar is in a comfortable place, or I am.  I’m ready to bring on the liquor license. 

 What is stopping you from getting a full-liquor license?

It was definitely something that could have been done sooner.  Why?  Beats me.  As of now, the Avalon bar has full approval with the City to have a full-liquor license. Now it’s just one more hurdle. Finding the funds.

Perfect timing for everything to crash a bit, right when the economy was failing?

Yes, life is funny.  Always so challenging.   It will be here soon though. Very soon.

It feels like people are becoming more active with their purchasing again.

It does, just needs to stay consistent with occasional  turbo-boosts of spending.
So please by beer at the Avalon.

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