The Circus Is Now the Circ
A chic makeover by the Ahn siblings
From the November, 2018 issue
For more than two decades the Circus Bar on First St. served drinks from under a giant "circus tent" set over the bar, complete with a stuffed lion jumping through an electric "ring of fire."
Now it's jumped through a yearlong extreme makeover by New York-based Krazieye Productions. Renamed The Circ Bar, it's emerged with a decidedly more rustic and mellow feeling. In mid-afternoon, sunlight pours in through the newly added windows and onto the former brewery's now-exposed 150-year-old brick walls. The floors, tabletops, and beams are cool-toned wood. The tables are supported by repurposed metal pipes, and the simple metal taps behind the sleek wood-and-stainless-steel bar are made to match. A couple of bonsai trees sit in a corner.
Roger Ahn, managing member of Krazieye, tells us his crew did a "gut renovation" of the space. "We essentially doubled the square footage," says Ahn, by turning what had been an apartment into a secondary lounge with its own bar, then moving the HVAC equipment to create a rooftop patio. The square wooden deck has benches, a few boxes planted with grasses, and a view over the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks to the west. "We're one of the few places with sunset views in [downtown] Ann Arbor," says Ahn. "Most places are obstructed on Main St. and South U."
The bar has also added a full kitchen, with a selection of appetizers and meals that chef Richard Craig, formerly of Mani Osteria, describes as "Asian-Mexican fusion with some bar food classics." The craft cocktails have an emphasis on local suppliers.
Ahn is excited about the progress they've already made in terms of sustainability. "We've reduced landfill waste by over 80 percent, and we're trying to increase that," he says. Composting is next on the agenda. "The only real garbage that we'll have are packages that get sent to us, and the rest would be recyclable."
Ahn's sister, Grace, is the project's designer, and his brother, Steven, is a
member of Krazieye as well. The siblings--originally from Bloomfield Hills--all graduated from the U-M. Roger remembers visiting the original Cavern Club for a party while he was attending the business school in the early 2000s. Krazieye has made a few other hospitality-focused investments in New York and L.A., but "nothing as big as this," he laughs.
The billiard tables are gone, but a few carryovers from the old Circus remain. The main room still has the giant, flashing light-up arrow from former owner Nick Easton's antiquing days and hosts live music and karaoke. It was partially Easton's policy on entertainment that caused the makeover to take over a year. Ahn tells us Easton was a follower of Walt Disney, who believed a true entertainment experience should transport patrons away from the real world--hence the bar's previous lack of windows.
Krazieye is still at work on the building's other floors, previously occupied by Easton's Gotham City, Millennium Club, and Cavern Club. Ahn says that, like Easton, they're going to have a unique business on each floor.
The Circ Bar, 210 S. First St. (734) 277-3656. Tues.-Thurs. 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Fri. 1 p.m.-2 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-midnight. Closed Mon. thecircbar.com
[Originally published in November, 2018.]
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