‘The fat lady has sung’

By Allan I. Ross

After 14 years, 621 calls it quits for good

Friday, Aug. 31 — The owners of the upscale martini lounge, 621, located at 621 E. Michigan Ave., announced Thursday they will be closing the nightclub for good after 14 years. 

“The market is just saturated with too many bars,” said Juel Darden, who owned and operated 621 since 2003 with her husband Julian Darden. “We can’t compete with all the corporate bars that have been popping up. We’re just a small mom-and-pop place.”

Restaurateur and developer Kris Elliot, who owns four downtown Lansing bars — Troppo, Tavern on the Square, Edmund’s Pastime and The Black Rose — opened 621 in 1998. At the time, there were about 10 other bars within a six-block radius. Today, there are double that.

“We tried our best,” says Darden. “We don’t want to resort to something gimmicky like glow stick night to get people to come in. This is a nice place. We don’t want the 21-year-old crowd in here tearing it up.”

Darden said she and Julien purchased 621 from Elliot in 2003, and it became a second full-time job for them both (Julien is a self-employed commercial lender, and Juel is the store manager at a department store). She said that for six years they kept it exactly as it was when they bought it, and built a loyal fan base in that time. Then in early 2009, the Dardens decided to do some major interior repair work —including work to the bathrooms and the floor — requiring them to temporarily shut it down. Work was only supposed to last for six months or less.

“But it’s a 100-year-old building,” she says. “We didn’t foresee some of the obstacles. It ended up costing a lot more than we expected.”

The re-opening didn’t happen for over a year and a half, in which time the downtown bar market had flooded. Harem Lounge, the Tin Can, the Corner Bar, MBC Lansing and the Wild Beaver Saloon were only some of the new kids on the block.

“It got to the point where we were asking, ‘What market do we fit in now?’” she says. “But instead of putting good money after bad money, we have decided to sell it. “

Darden says they intend to sell the liquor license and the building as a package deal. She thanked all the Lansing groups that supported 621 over the years — including many Greek organizations and local politicians who rented it out for parties and fundraisers — but promises that 621 will not re-open.

“We’re a resilient couple, and we always have lots of irons in the fire,” she says. “But this is our last hurrah. The fat lady has sung.”