So there’s always a new bar opening, and everyone wants to go to a new bar, if only to see what it’s all about.
If your bar is a business, it’s hard to compete against a bar that’s someone else’s hobby. For you it’s a livelihood. For them it’s cheap drinks.
Those prospective bar owners don’t see the late night drunks. They don’t see the people of average intelligence who get progressively dumber as they get drunker. They don’t see the vomit in the men’s room, or the toilet that clogs during prime time, or the entitled regulars who think they deserve special consideration after two a.m.
I used to tell people that owning a bar is a good job if you like drinking and doing drugs and having sex with lots of different women. I was only half kidding.
It’s a young man’s game. It’s a hard lifestyle. Your employees steal from you, and your suppliers short you, or they don’t show up at all. It’s all crisis management, and if you’re lucky, your crises come serially and not all at once.
So I wasn’t too surprised to see this report on KVIA about two bars on Cincinnati Street closing:
I wasn’t too surprised, but I didn’t like it. The Cincinnati Bar & Grill was one of my favorites for that kind of bar. I liked the fish and chips with malted vinegar, and the Longhammer IPA on tap. Plus, George Diamos’ fashion sense was unparalleled, as illustrated in the video above. And Anthony Duncan is an old pro at the bar and restaurant business. If he couldn’t make a go of the Corner Tavern, I doubt anyone can.
Not that I go out to bars much anymore. Bars serve an important social function, but not so much for me anymore.
The news report also illustrates a couple of other hazards for bar owners. Landlords often think they’re your partners, and somehow they’re not getting their share, so they jack your rent. The landlords never show up to lock the doors at the end of the night, or help out a belligerent drunk.
The other unforeseen obstacle for entrepreneurs is the social engineering foisted on business owners by well-meaning local governments.
When I owned Wildhare’s, I had to forego booking bands on Sunday nights in the summer because I couldn’t compete with Music Under the Stars. MUTS would book some of the same bands that I hosted, and it’s hard to compete with free.
When the City offers tax incentives to entice a new hotel, the old hotel owners complain. When the City offered tax incentives to entice the Fountains at Farah to remove the blighted eyesore of an abandoned factory, Barnes and Noble and Best Buy relocated, leaving empty retail behind them. The City didn’t eliminate the eyesore, they just moved it down the road. I think someone is moving into one of those spaces now, but how many years has it been?
Of course, the Cincinnati District also benefitted from the City’s largesse. The City partnered with UTEP on that big parking garage across from the Special Events Center in an attempt to foster the entertainment district. But El Pasoans aren’t accustomed to paying for parking. Even on busy nights on Cincinnati Street, the parking garage stayed more than half empty.
I never begrudged the City for Music Under the Stars. I always figured it was for the greater good. But there are only so many dollars in town, be they retail dollars, or entertainment dollars, or lodging dollars. And I’m not sure it should be government’s job to reslice the pie.
Drunks are a fickle customer base, but the City Council’s attention span is only marginally longer.
Would Cincinnati still be a thriving bar district if the City hadn’t redirected its affections towards downtown? Who can say? The bar business is dynamic, and there are lots of obstacles. But I’ll miss the fish and chips, and an eight dollar hot dog won’t make up for that.