EXTREME MAKEOVER: BAR EDITION
Local bars keep it real with renovation.
by Danny Cross
If I had my own bar it would be fucking awesome. Crazy disco lights would pierce through eerie darkness. A long, fancy bar would run alongside pool tables while a video projector flashed obscure movies on the front window. Couches with fish tanks behind them would surround fireplaces. A small corner stage would constantly offer the opportunity to bring the house down.
But there's one problem: These elements of bar space, while each legitimate in itself, just don't go together. I've never been one to enjoy playing pool in eerie darkness. And eating tasty food in an elegant maple booth isn't the same when disco lights threaten to induce seizures before the main course.
Luckily, these elements (and more) are found in a number of Eugene bars that you might not have checked out for a while. Here's a look at four spaces that were recently renovated and the kind of vibe they've got these days.
JAMESON'S - 115 West Broadway
Formerly Café Paradiso, Jameson's is now bringing a sense of swank back to Broadway. Similar in aura to the Indigo District, Jameson's is a dimly lit, highly sociable space with touches of fanciness at every turn. A huge maple shelving unit behind a 30-foot angling bar displays rows of liquor bottles from eye-level to nearly ceiling-level. Booths (also maple) line the opposite wall beneath original paintings that are changed monthly for the First Friday Art Walk. Large, planetary-like fixtures hover over each booth while an obscure collection of lamps, collected by the owner at garage sales and thrift stores, dimly dot the rest of the room.
"I wanted to create a space that I was comfortable hanging out in — kind of a nice, classy, low-key place," says owner James Carroll, who also helped design John Henry's and Horsehead bar.
Strangely, a 5-foot section of the outdoor brick patio leads through the side doors and along most of the bar. The rest of the place is the original carpet, which Carroll says will be replaced once the downtown development drama gets settled. Until then, the renovation process is at a convenient halt with nearly every detail — from the orange, yellow and purple walls to the pool table and dartboard — already altered.
"I think it's a tribute to making a nice place for people," Carroll says. "When they find out about it, they like it and they appreciate it and they'll come down and support you. Anybody can build a bar, but if you build something nice, I think people really appreciate that."
LATITUDE 21 - 25 W. 6th Ave.
Last September, Josh Tuckman took over the monstrosity that was Joe's Bar. The black-painted windows and gangster-welcoming darkness immediately called for a facelift. "It was a dark pit," says Tuckman, the current general manager. "This town has plenty of dark pits. There are plenty of places to go and spit on the floor and no one gives a shit."
Tuckman envisioned a more urbanized space at the 6th Avenue and Willamette location. He decided to offer two different atmospheres in Latitude 21 — one on each side of the back-to-back bars that split the room in half. The front room houses two pool tables and a dinner area with a small stage against the front windows (which now are clear and open to the parking lot). Tuckman revamped the kitchen menu and says that the food at Latitude 21 might be the best bar food in the state.
"Our menu is international — Caribbean, Polynesian, Italian," he says. "We get all our meat from Long's Meat Market."
The opposite side of the bar is now more of a lounge. The lighting is slightly dimmer, with red conical fixtures over the bar and red bulbs in the ceiling lights. Couch areas, a fireplace and fish tank offer a more intimate setting.
"It's nice but not pretentious," says Tuckman, who ran Wetlands for seven years. "We're looking for a little bit older and a little bit more mellow crowd."
At least one remnant of Joe's remains, however. The coolest arcade game ever sits next to the front door — yes, Big Buck Hunter made the remodeling cut.
SNAFU - 64 W. 8th Alley
Perhaps the most personal of the newest spaces in town is Snafu, which basically is seating around a dance floor with a bar at one end. Faux animal skins drape a bench seat that spreads along the left wall with two-person tables across from it. The right side of the room is a rectangular indoor cabana with two seating areas raised 3 feet off the ground. Rugs, pillows and tree stump tables offer patrons a place to chill out and watch people dance.
"I call it a tribal dance house," says owner Joshua Keim. "It's a neighborhood flavored, gay-friendly bar."
The most striking renovation to Snafu is the sophisticated lighting system, which, because of the small space, catches your eye as soon as you walk through the doors. A large mechanical disco ball contraption flutters lights on a white screen that is visible from outside. Three rows of theater-style lights hang above the candle-lit bar and tables. A video projector that Keim says will project films on the front screen hangs in the back of the room.
"I love lighting and going to clubs in New York," Keim says. "They always have fancy lights. I just wanted to bring a little of that to Eugene."
In the near future, Snafu will offer a drink menu with its own renamed concoctions such as Spiced Monkey and Gator Bite.
TABOO - 23 W. 6th Ave.
Taboo General Manager Jim Bachelder squeezed a paper towel around his bleeding finger. It seemed to be a commonplace afternoon occurrence. "Yeah," he said. "It's a bar."
Aside from whatever glass smashing antics Bachelder is into, he's also spent some time tidying up the club formerly called The Jungle. Gone are the fake trees, the camo netting, the cheesy leopard print on velvet and the festering fountain. Bachelder's main change to the spacious, dark dance club is including the once roped-off 18-and-over side. The place now has the capacity for 777 grind-dancing patrons. Bachelder added seating to the stage and plans to add a fifth bartender.
"It's gotten to the point where we're putting 500 in here on Thursday and Friday night and getting to capacity on Fridays," he says.
The stage sits in the back corner of the bar with dance space between it and the main bar. Two smaller bar areas are dispersed among the open space near the front of the room and pool tables offer a more chill area near the kitchen. Word on the street is that this kitchen, "Barb's Café," is the place to be. Barb and J.B. Black, Las Veganites by way of Mississippi, will cook up the house special for $8.95 — Southern Deep Fried Catfish.
You can take that shit out on the dance floor and have a really good time.