Telling lawyer jokes at the bar is usually standard operating procedure, but hold on to your legal profession zingers at Side Bar — the place is owned by a trial attorney. For six years, Andrew Abood has been slowly transforming the space adjacent to Abood Law Firm, his East Lansing practice near the southeast corner of Saginaw Street and Abbot Road, into an upscale bistro. And this Friday, the bar association member is set become the city’s newest bar owner.
“It took a while, but I’m happy with the way things turned out,” Abood said, surveying the brick, faux brushed steel and reclaimed wood of the interior. “I didn’t want to rush anything. Sometimes you have to wait for all the right elements to line up.”
That wait gave him time to assemble his ideal management team. Side Bar is the first hospitality industry venture for Abood, but he’s contracted operational management out to longtime local restaurateurs Jim Balasis, former managing partner of the now defunct Tony Sacco’s in the Heights at Eastwood, and Jimmy Fata, owner/operator of Jimmy’s Pub up the street at Chandler Crossings.
“I’m not exactly a silent partner,” Abood joked. “I just come over and tell them when they’re doing something stupid.” The space, which used to be home to a real estate company and an outdoor equipment outfitter, has sat vacant since 2009. Although this is Abood’s initiation into the restaurant industry, the business runs in the family. His brother, Jerome Abood, owned the bygone hotspots Wild Beaver Saloon and House of Eden Rock in downtown Lansing. Andrew Abood said he trusts Fata and Balasis to build Side Bar into a popular hangout, and Balasis wasted no time in assembling their dream wait and kitchen staff.
“You remember how in ‘The Blues Brothers,’ (John Belushi) was going around saying, ‘We’re putting the band back together’?” Balasis said. “That’s what we’ve done here. Most of the staff here worked together (at Tony Sacco’s), and after it closed, they sort of had the rug pulled out from underneath them. We all got along great and communication was very easy . Now we’re all back together and it’s amazing.”
The menu was built around salads, burgers and sandwiches, complemented with pasta options and imported meat-and-cheese charcuterie boards. All sauces and dressings will be made fresh in-house, and the kitchen will rotate special entrée plates based on what’s available seasonally.
“You’ll be able to come in 100 times and never have the same thing twice,” Balasis said. “We’re really trying to make this a place where people will want to come back just to see what we’re doing today.”
The bar features eight taps, of which five will be rotating craft beer selections. There will also be a creative martini menu, a wine list that will focus on mid-tier selections, and an expansive list of top-shelf whiskeys and bourbons. The goal is to capture both local traffic and those just passing by.
“This is one of the busiest intersections in the area, so I can see a lot of people stopping through on their way home,” Balasis said. “And it’s (walkable) from the Whitehills Neighborhood, so I think it’s going to be a perfect neighborhood bar for the people who live nearby.”
The 2,500-square-foot space holds about 75 seats, and there will be a patio set up when warm weather hits. Pending final inspection, Abood said Side Bar should be up and running this Friday for the biggest bar day of the year: St. Patrick’s Day.
“We’re ready to be busy right out of the gate,” Abood said. “It’s been a long time. There’s probably been a lot of people waiting to finally see what it looks like.”
Good Truckin’ expansion
It started as a food truck, evolved into a breakfast hotspot and soon Good Truckin’ Diner will become a full-service restaurant. If everything goes according to plan, the 3-year-old REO Town business at 1107 S. Washington Ave. will move down the block later this year into the space formerly home to Lansing Uniform to become the up-and-coming neighborhood’s first destination dining location.
“This was always the plan, to expand someday, but I wanted to make sure everything was where I wanted it to be,” said owner/operator Nick Sinicropi. “I think we’re finally at the stage where it makes sense.”
Sinicropi said he’s seen potential customers walk away after seeing how crowded his 800-square-foot space gets during rushes. He said the move to 1141 S. Washington Ave. will allow him to more than triple in size to capture all those lost patrons.
“I’m really eager to accommodate,” Sinicropi said. “I wonder how many of those people who left never come back. This may have been their first trip to REO Town, and now we lost them forever. We’ve got the bar, we’ve got the barbecue, we’ve got the diner, we’ve got the (upcoming) coffee shop. Now REO Town needs a restaurant like this.”
He has a point. The REO Town Pub doesn’t serve food. Saddleback BBQ closes at 7 p.m., making it an inconvenient date night destination. Blue Owl Coffee, opening April 1, will mostly cater to early birds. Sleepwalker Spirits & Ale is scheduled to open one block north later this summer with a deli counter inside, but that’s hardly a true epicurean experience. And the Rusty Nail is slated to open two blocks south — eventually — but there’s no set date yet for completion. The new Good Truckin’ location, slated to open in late summer or early fall, would put it front and center in the growing cultural scene and would open up the current location to become another concept — which Sinicropi plans to also run.
“There are a lot of ideas for what we can do with it, from late night burgers or tacos to maybe an ice cream parlor,” Sinicropi said. “It all depends on what people want. I’ve had a few years to collect ideas. Whatever it becomes, it has to fit the neighborhood. That’s the most important thing.”
Downtown bakery Glazed and Confused will open a second location at the end of the month in the new retail plaza at the southwest corner of Coolidge and Lake Lansing roads in East Lansing. Owner/ operator Pete Counseller said most of the usual trappings from his “urban bakery” will make the transition to the new location — which will have a drive-thru! — but due to a non-compete clause with the adjacent Jimmy John’s, the menu will shift from lunch to breakfast items. New creations include eggs benedict and biscuits and gravy, all made to order from scratch.
Check back next week for more details.
Side Bar (opening Friday, March 17)
246 E. Saginaw St. Ste. 2, East Lansing
3-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 3 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday (517) 580-8425, facebook.com/sidebar.sidebar.7
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