A new history-themed cocktail lounge could soon be headed to downtown Traverse City if city commissioners approve a liquor license for the project Tuesday at their 7pm meeting at the Governmental Center.
Husband-and-wife duo Christine and Taylor Keefe and their friend Glenn Durfee are partners in the new venture, which is set to open at 123 West Front Street (pictured). The property – comprised of two closely adjacent buildings that also house engineering firm Gourdie-Fraser – dates back to the 1800s, with a lengthy and diverse history of businesses at the site. That history made the parcel an ideal fit for the trio, who were searching for the right location to open a bar themed around Traverse City’s past, according to Christine Keefe.
“In New York City, we have a ton of history-themed bars and restaurants,” says Keefe, a native New Yorker. “I didn’t see anything like that in Traverse City. This whole thing is a family business, and my family’s really into history and loves the history of Traverse City. There is an amazing bar scene already, so we wanted to add to that experience and thought history was a great way to do that.”
Tentatively set to be called 123 West Front after the site’s address, the 80-capacity cocktail lounge will highlight Traverse City historical themes – from the antiques-scattered décor to historical photos on the wall to the regionally-inspired cocktail list. “We’re bringing a mixologist from New York City to craft these cocktails that use local ingredients and are created around and named after historic characters and tidbits,” Keefe says. “For example, there used to be a Coca-Cola bottling plant on the property, so we have a Coke cocktail. We’re also going to have classic drinks from throughout the ages.”
The cocktail lounge will feature all house-made bitters and infusions and locally sourced ingredients. In addition to the cocktail list, 123 West Front will feature “a small curated list” of local beers and wines, plus a menu of small plates, according to Keefe. “We’re really going for white-glove service in a comfortable and welcoming environment,” says Keefe. “One of the things I’m excited about is the conversation that happens when you bring neighbors together. I’m hoping we can collect more personal (historical) stories from people…it’s an amazing opportunity to have a creative space.”
The venture – operating under the LLC Lascivious Libations Co. – was recently issued a Grand Traverse County building permit for an $80,000 commercial remodel of the property. Should things proceed smoothly with the build-out and permitting, Keefe says the cocktail lounge could be open by early summer. City commissioners will need to sign off Tuesday on the lounge’s redevelopment liquor license application, which will then go to the state for final approval. While some city officials have recently discussed taking a closer look at the city’s liquor license program and potentially capping the number of licenses downtown, Commissioner Brian Haas says he doesn’t believe the informal talks – which have yet to occur in an official commission setting – should affect projects underway.
“I think the discussion (on the number of licenses) is good and one I’m open to having, but I think we should do that when there isn’t something before us,” Haas says. “(Redevelopment licenses) have been a good tool for downtown. I don’t see any reason to hold something up or block something that’s already in the pipeline.”
Commissioner Gary Howe agrees. “I’m certainly not holding it up just because a few people have concerns, because I haven’t been convinced yet of those concerns or the need to curtail implementation of these licenses,” Howe says. “I think they’ve been successful and have helped some great businesses. I think it might be premature to find ways to curtail development.”
Also on Tuesday’s commission agenda…
City commissioners – who meet Tuesday instead of Monday this week due to President’s Day – will also discuss the following at their meeting:
> Approving a brownfield plan for the Park Place Hotel, which has already received approval from the Grand Traverse County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and Downtown Development Association. The plan describes $2.6 million in local eligible reimbursement funding in relation to the demolition of the Park Place dome and construction of a new conference center, including just under $1 million to the Park Place for demolition and clean-up costs and $1.6 million to fund three major public improvement projects downtown.
> Holding required public hearings in relation to three grant requests totaling $275,000 for improvements at Hickory Hills. The city will be seeking a Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, Land and Water Conservation Fund grant and Recreation Passport grant from the state for the park, with local matches coming from funds raised by Preserve Hickory. Tuesday’s public hearings are required ahead of an official March 6 commission vote to support the grant applications.
> Considering authorizing over $82,000 for pavement markings and street stripings through the city in 2017. Commissioners previously delayed approving the expenditure, citing a desire for more information from staff about the specific list of projects the funds will cover and how projects are prioritized. City Manager Marty Colburn, City Engineer Tim Lodge, and City Department of Public Works Director Dave Green are expected to address those issues at Tuesday’s meeting.