July 24 2013 12:00 AM

Irish Pub / Rum Runners

A week after St. Patrick’s Day this year, The Irish Pub and Grill, 910 W. Saginaw St. on Lansing’s west side, closed for business. The owners had no comment, but the online auction announcement said it all. Up for bid: its Class C liquor license, a full commercial kitchen and “all equipment required to maintain the business,” which included tables, chairs and lights. Over the last four months, based on outward appearances, it seemed nothing was happening with the property; inside, however, it’s been a different story.

“Right now, we’re in the middle of moving the kitchen to the back of building, where it makes more sense,” said new owner Jeremy Werner who plans on an October opening. “At this point, we don’t know the extent of how much work we’ll be doing, but we’re trying to take care of all the big stuff first. We’re trying to do everything that can’t be done as an operational business so we can open as soon as possible.”

Werner also owns the Grand Ledge-based company Pro-MEC Engineering Services. He has 20 years of hospitality experience in mid-Michigan, and said the Irish Pub purchase is part of a lifelong dream.

“When my partner and I started our business 14 years ago, we joked and said, ‘Let’s make enough money to buy a bar,’” he said. “Well, when I heard the Irish Pub was closing, I called him while he was on vacation with his family and told him I thought we should bid on it. I heard about (the auction) on Thursday, qualified for bid the next morning, and officially bought it Friday at 5:40 p.m.”

Werner plans to buy new kitchen equipment and install new HVAC equipment. He said he’s also working with a Grand Ledge chef to create menu items that utilize fresh local ingredients. He said he hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to keep the bar’s old name, but he promises it will at least keep the same theme.

“It will be AN Irish pub,” Werner said. “I just don’t’ know if it will be THE Irish Pub.”

Piano bar gets a tuning

In other Lansing bar renovation news, downtown’s piano bar is getting a major interior facelift. The two-story establishment Rum Runners, 601 E. Michigan Ave., is getting its first overhaul in 11 years.

Rum Runners opened in 1996 as a piano bar on the second floor and a restaurant on the first, but manager Mike Walsh said that in 2002, the bottom half was transformed into a nightclub. Now, he said, the renovations will bring things “full circle.”

“It’s been relevant for 17 years, but it’s time to modernize as things around us have been popping up,” Walsh said, referring to the rise of the bar complex two blocks away, which includes the Tin Can, Harem Urban Lounge, The Loft and Taps 25. “We’re trying to stay competitive.”

When asked if that includes the return of a full-time restaurant, Walsh wouldn’t say. He did say work so far has consisted of stripping the second floor; gone is the tropical décor, in its place a “customized performance space.” He said when work is complete this fall, Rum Runners will also expand its hours to be open every night (right now, it’s open 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday and 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday).

“We’re looking to bring other forms of live entertainment so we can host bigger events,” Walsh said. “We’re positioning ourselves as an event venue that has more of a blank slate. It’s difficult to book certain events when you’ve got palm trees all over the place.”