A handwritten sign in the window is about as grand as this opening gets: “We’re Open!”
“We didn’t know until 4 o’ clock on Friday we’d be open,” said Lynne Burns, who co-owns Kelly’s Downtown with her husband, Lenny, and some other partners. “We missed our customers and we’re really happy to be back, especially in time for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Yes, Kelly’s is back, but not without a scary seven-month hiatus that left many regulars wondering where the heck their favorite bar went. The Burnses and their partners vacated the bar’s former location (down the street at 203 S. Washington Square) seven months ago with the assumption they’d be up and running at the new space in two or three months.
However, licenses, paperwork and a completely new plumbing and electrical infra structure made for unforeseen obstacles.
So why would a successful business take a chance like that?
“It all came down to wanting to be our own landlords,” says Lenny Burns. “(Our former location) was smaller and we were paying rent to someone else. This new space has allowed us to add more seating, add a bigger kitchen and add a banquet room. But we’ve kept the same authentic Irish wall hangings and even the same tables and chairs. We wanted to make sure to stay true to the bar’s history.”
When Kelly’s Downtown debuted on Washington Square in 1985, it was one of more than a dozen bars within walking distance of the Capitol. Over the years, nearly all of the others disappeared with very few taking their place. In the early ’00s the downtown Lansing bar scene was down to a few, with Kelly’s being the old kid on the block.
The new space has a history all its own: This building was the first location of Knapp’s Department Store before it moved into the Art Deco colossus on the corner. The Burnses and their partners bought it in 2007 and began to rebuild it from the basement up.
Lynne and Lenny say that their friends and family helped them carry everything over from the old location by hand, including the bar, which needed to be cut into three pieces and removed through the front window. The new setup has allowed Kelly’s to add five new taps, all of which run to the cooler located directly beneath the bar in the basement.
“I’m really looking forward to having our old friends come in and pass judgment on us,” says Lenny.
“My goal is to have them walk in the door and say, ‘That S.O.B. Burns did it — he made it look just like the old Kelly’s!’”
History marches on.
Washington Square 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat. (517) 708-2007