Phoenix with nine lives
|By Rich Tupica|
Disaster-prone Williamston pub expands with live performance venue
When a business proprietor experiences three disasters in as many years, finding a willing insurance company gets to be a thorny state of affairs. Perhaps that’s why bar owner Craig Banwell keeps his insurance agent, Ganesh Reddy, by his side — at least during interviews with local media.
"After the third disaster, my liability was so high I couldn´t pay it," Banwell said. "So I closed the doors, developed another business, and put the liquor license under that name. I didn´t know it would take 15 months for it all to work itself out."
Banwell is the owner of CB’s Bucket Bar & Grille in downtown Williamston, a place that falls somewhere between a phoenix and a black cat in the metaphorical animal category. In 2006 a kitchen fire shut it down for a year. In 2007 a tornado hit, flooding the entire restaurant. Next, in December 2008 an arsonist set fire to the century-old, two-story brick building. Now the Bucket is on its fourth life under Banwell’s management, which just keeps rising from the flames — sometimes literally.
“They emptied the entire local water tower and started calling in fire trucks from other counties —there were 60-foot flames,” Banwell said of the first fire. As for his recollection of the tornado? “I got a call to come get my rooftop off Grand River.”
Inside the refashioned restaurant, Banwell was shadowed by the chatty and polite Reddy, who appeared to subtly monitor parts of the conversation. Banwell has owned the pub since 2003, with a large chunk of that time spent repeatedly starting over. Banwell, 50, grew up in Williamston and previously owned the Westside Deli. His newest venture is turning the upstairs of the Bucket, known as Club Rumor’z, into a live music and comedy venue, complete with a new stage, dance floor and sound system. The live entertainment is a key part of his plan to gain a foothold in the town, which isn’t known for evening entertainment. He said the Bucket has become “the night cap of Williamston.”
“I decided to do it because there was no dance floor in town,” he said. “And nobody does comedy. There’s the Williamston Theatre (featuring live stage performances) and there’s the Sun Theatre (a second-run movie house). We’ve already done one comedy show that was pretty successful — we had about 80 people come out. The live bands have been packing the dance floor, too.”
So what are the after effects of three devastations? Aside from getting construction bids, apparently it’s also an unending seven-day work week for Banwell. It’s all a part of the rejuvenation process.
“Business is not as good as it was before ’08, that’s for sure, but every day is getting a little bit better,” Banwell said. “A lot of people don’t even know we’re open yet. Our commercial just aired on television. We’ve also got fliers around town, and we just released our six-page menu.”
One thing that keeps Banwell rebuilding the same bar is the Bucket’s long history.
“This building has been a boxing arena, a dancehall and a church,” he said. “They actually used to do baptisms in the Red Cedar River right out back.”
As for the name that comes with the building, at 132 W. Grand River Ave., Banwell said even when past owners have attempted to change the name, locals still called it the Bucket.
“I got the story a few years ago when a 98-year-old lady sent me a letter,” he said. “Too bad it burned up in the fire. But she said it became the Bucket because back in the early days guys would get into a lot of fights and the local police took them to the jailhouse to sober up.
“Their wives would come here and the bar would let them buy some to-go beers in buckets. Then they’d take them down to the jail for their husbands to drink. Right from there they started to call it the Bucket. It stuck.”
CB’s Bucket Bar & Grille/Club Rumor’z