Friday, May 28, 2004

Main Street hits downturn

Four bars have closed as nightlife business falters

By Justin Fenton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Despite the smiley face and cheery name, Have a Nice Day Cafe on Main Street closed this month.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MEGGAN BOOKER
OVER-THE-RHINE - It's last call for drinks in the early morning in Main Street's entertainment district. Bar Cincinnati is empty and dimly lit, with overturned stools on the floor and half-empty liquor bottles lining the bar.

Bar Cincinnati hasn't had a customer all night. It, along with Have a Nice Day Cafe, shut down this month. It's one of three bars to close in the past six months between 11th and 12th streets. A fourth, Warehouse, opened for the last time Wednesday night, said co-owner Kevin DeMorest.

There were 11 bars on Main Street between Central Parkway and Liberty Street at the beginning of the year. Seven remain. Where hordes of clubbers once drank and danced the night away are now empty buildings with covered-up windows. And officials are scurrying to fill the void.

"Our neighborhood district is beginning to evolve - some of it's good, some of it's not," Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce president Tom Besanceney said of the closings. "There is some concern, but we're rapidly working on satisfying some of those things."

But Bo Aker, manager of The Red Cheetah bar just off Main Street, painted a less cheery picture.

"It's never good when clubs shut down, especially in an entertainment district. It drives people out of the area."

In addition to Bar Cincinnati and Have A Nice Day, Jump Cafe closed in January. And Warehouse - which moved from Vine Street in February - is on the verge of selling.

Besanceney said discussions are taking place to replace Warehouse, which he and others said never found its groove in the entertainment district.

Meanwhile, former Have a Nice Day operator Tom Flynn is in talks to launch another bar in the city, possibly at the old McAlpin's building on Fourth Street downtown.

"For us, it (Over-the-Rhine) was no longer working," he said. "But we're definitely going to do something else in Cincinnati. We love the city."

At just past midnight on a recent weeknight, women in short pleated skirts scurried out of the rain and into the clubs, their male friends lagging behind, and Main Street was otherwise quiet. A 20-something man took refuge from the rain under an awning as he took a drag from a cigarette, and another jogged up to an ATM for last-minute cash.

The only other people along the street were the bouncers, who described a dwindling nightlife with significantly decreased weekday and Friday crowds.

A number of factors are causing the bars to close.

One is crime. Lauren MacDonald, 22, of Monfort Heights, said she and her friends don't go to Main Street because "it's a bad neighborhood."

Another factor is the cyclical nature of the bar business.

City Councilman Jim Tarbell said the bar scene in any town is fickle, with trendy venues here today and gone tomorrow. High rent in the area also could be to blame, he said.

"Both of those bars that closed were very much in the trendy category and had run their course," he said. "Truth be known, it was not a surprise; and I think with an entertainment district like that, there is a certain amount of turnover.

"To me, it's an opportunity for maybe changing the mix upwards."

Tarbell says the council has turned down a proposal from Mayor Charlie Luken's choice of consultant, Memphis, Tenn., developer John Elkington, who helped transform Beale Street there into a worldwide attraction.

Luken had asked council for $100,000 to pay Elkington, who submitted a report earlier this year on how to revitalize the Main Street district.

"The council didn't feel it was their place to hire him," Tarbell said. "What he did in Memphis doesn't really apply. He took what was a ghost town and started over. We're not starting over."


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