Two years ago Meri Dahlke and Michael Hickey jumped on the crazy train of bar ownership. They found an old building on a nice plot in the Bishops Arts District and decided to give it a go. Now, it's just a matter of weeks now before they actually open Ten Bells Tavern at 232 W. 7th Street. They've learned a lot from the process and for any of you considering opening your own place, a recent comment on their Facebook page may serve as a bit of sage advice:
"It's nice to learn new things. Between the city, state and the TABC, they are making sure this happens every day. Our mental acuity hasn't been tested like this for a long time. We'll be members of Mensa by the time our place opens."
Who knew the upside to scaling the bureaucracy of opening a bar would be Mensa? That's awesome because Mensa members get discounts on rental cars, hotels and pet insurance. Besides just knowing that they really are above it all.
Navigating the complicated process is a common rumble of new restaurant owners. Getting all the right tags, licenses, signs, vents, etc, and forking over money, money and more money (then just one more fee for another application/permit) tests your dedication to the project. You gotta really want this to make it happen.
"There's just tons of paperwork," said Dahlke of Ten Bells Tavern. "We hired a consultant to help us. This guy was an inspector for the city for 15 years. He knew all the ins-and-outs. We did everything else on our own, but hired someone to help us with city code and the TABC."
For those who can't afford a "permit consultant," well, get ready for a giant whipping. I recall Eddie Campbell in euphoric jubilance on opening day of the Chesterfield in downtown last December. Customers actually walking through the door were a relief after months of getting through city codes and inspections.
"Serving customers is the easy part after all this," said Campbell last summer. "I wanted to cry the first time customers actually walked in. Then they sat at the bar and ordered a rum and coke. I freaked out."
Ten Bells Tavern got past most things unscathed. They're already set up with the TABC and only got one red flag from the city because they didn't use a dark enough marker on a sign.
"They're real big on being able to see signs from the street," said Dalhke sort of blaze, like she just rolls with the punches. "So, I just took the sign down, found a darker marker and traced over it. The next day we got the green tag. We just tried to be cool with everything."
There's one more issue to settle, which they hope to take care of this week and they'll be ready to open their Texas-Britain inspired beer garden (more on that in a sec). The good news is they have two parking lots! In the Bishop Arts District!
They're working on finalizing their beer list and Chef Carlos Mancera, previously of One2One, is working on the menu that will include some English inspired dishes.
As for the name of Ten Bells Tavern, in March Dalhke told Teresa Gubbins at Pegasus News that she has an affinity for British things and the bar is named after the pub in London where Jack the Ripper stalked two of his victims.
Dahlke explained that she really just likes the popular pub (not the stalker) and that they have their own "Jack" who was the guard dog next to Lee Harvey's for 10 years, who she adopted after he retired from work. He passed in February of 2010, but they have a lot of "Jack" stuff around the tavern in honor of her beloved pooch.
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Growing up in Wisconsin, Dahlke spent a lot of time around her uncle's bars and said she just "likes to bullshit with people." Recently, she wrote on their Facebook page that Ten Bells Tavern will be a place to come hang out with people or grab a beer and hunker down in a corner and read a book.
They've completely renovated an old building on West 7th Street, doing most of the work themselves, giving it plenty of personalized touches along the way. Soon, they hope you all can help them personalize it. They'll be glad to serve you a cold pint.
On the long two-year process Dahlke said, "The first time we actually serve a beer, I'll probably cry."
Cheers to dark markers.