Jan. 21 2009 12:00 AM

New bar and grill focuses on basics


Along Shiawassee Street, at the corner of Cedar, the Corner Bar’s eight-foot windows invite passersby in for good eats, a tune or two and some spirits. Formerly Club 505, a popular lesbian hangout, The Corner Bar has been reinvented as a blue-collar, neighborhood pub.

In addition to installing the enormous windows, owner Curt Turner removed a drop ceiling, which revealed a unique tin ceiling and opened the space even more. “It was a very closed, dark space,” Turner says. “So we just tried to lighten it up.”

Turner opened the bar in the building owned by restaurateur Kris Elliott (Troppo and Tavern on the Square), in October and has been operating the business under a liquor license in Elliot’s name, which Turner said is being transferred to him.

A sizable stage for local musicians is set off to one side of the bar, framing a dance floor. Live music is scheduled only on weekends for now, but Turner hopes to be rocking six or seven days a week in the future.

“[It’s] Just a casual place to hang out, shoot the breeze with your buddies,” Turner says. “We’re not trying to be fancy. Come in, have a beer, get something to eat.”

While recent arctic-like temperatures and a post-Christmas spending hangover have conspired to keep most restaurants sluggish, Turner looks forward to summer, where he hopes to hear the crack of a baseball bat counterpoint the ring of a cash register. “I assume I’ll do very well when the Lugnuts are playing baseball,” he says.

Turner got started in the restaurant business at 16, washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant, and was the first general manager at downtown’s Troppo.

The menu at The Corner Bar is simple but still evolving. Since the restaurant opened in late October, Turner has spent much of his time in the kitchen, constructing burgers and slicing potatoes. “I just hired my first cook last week,” he says. “I am the cook.”

He developed the restaurant’s fare through trial and error and listens closely to hear what folks enjoy as the menu expands. Hamburgers ($5.95-6.95) are the chow of choice for most, and a selection of specialty patties — Mexican, olive, BBQ, bacon cheese — come on a Kaiser roll with healthy chunks of tomato, onion and lettuce. “People love my olive burgers,” he boasts. “I make a heck of an olive sauce, apparently.”

The white chicken chili ($3.95), a soupof-the-day option, proves the man can cook. Turner uses a homemade recipe to produce a savory treat filled with large nuggets of chicken.

A Philly cheese steak sandwich ($6.95) and breaded macaroni and cheese ($5.95) are highlights on the limited menu, competing with plenty of appetizers, such as deep fried pickles ($5.95) and deep fried green beans ($2.95). Homemade potato chips ($1.99) come as a starter or accompany burgers. The browned, curled disks of spud are deliciously salty.

“I hope down the line to expand the menu into pastas and steaks,” Turner says. But the focus at The Corner Bar will certainly not be anything ostentatious.

“Keep it simple,” Turner says. “Make it taste good.”

The Corner Bar, 505 E. Shiawassee St., Lansing. 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Monday – Saturday; noon-midnight Sunday. (517) 374-3565.