The bar business is a challenge to say the least. Consumers are fickle, and will follow a trend like lemmings off the edge of a cliff. Still with the economy on the upswing, bars and restaurants are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance; and new establishments are opening up to share in the wealth. While some choose to start building their venture from the ground up, others choose a somewhat easier approach, and revamp an existing location to maintain as well as attract a whole new clientele. Such is the case for Tony Fleith and Justin McConnell, the new owners of Li'l Devils Lounge.
To walk into Li'l Devils Lounge shows you just how much this truly dynamic duo care about their new venture. There are few remnants of the locations previous tenant, The Barker Lounge. In its place is a sleek new design with sophisticated elements and a style that let consumers know the space is under new management. The space shows off the unique skills Fleith and McConnell bring to the table; Tony’s background in décor and design, and Justin’s roots in the theater. Aside from the aesthetic changes of the space, the two never forget that the key to their success is truly based in their clientele.
“We are truly grateful, appreciative and humbled by the support we have received from not only the gay community, but the neighborhood, as well,” says Fleith.
However, taking over an existing location comes with its own unique issues. The previous resident, The Barker Lounge, was not without its share of controversy. Allegations of some illegal activities hung over the space. But McConnell and Fleith, who was a longtime employee of The Barker, have done their best to quell the reputation of the previous residents, and create a brand new space that is uniquely their own.
“Our goal is to provide (our customers) a clean, safe, friendly and fun environment,” says Fleith. “We strive to ensure our staff is educated and well-trained in the most current laws and intervention procedures and practices. We don’t want to be just another ‘gay bar’ on the scene; we want to redefine the scene!”
Good customer service is an ideal that resonates throughout the Li'l Devils Lounge philosophy. It is more or less a mantra for management and staff alike; to put service first. And Fleith and McConnell both feel this mantra is paramount to the bars success.
“We are an upscale neighborhood with an ‘edgy’ feel,” says Fleith. “Li'l Devils Lounge is a place to meet old friends and make new ones. But it is also a place to spend time with that special someone, or to have an intimate conversation.”
Atmosphere aside, the true mark of a great bar is the drinks they serve. For Fleith, who has more than 15 years of bar service to the community, the concept of mixology is not just a catch phrase, it is part of what makes the Li'l Devils experience unique. The plan is to showcase this attribute with unique drink concoctions that cannot be enjoyed anywhere else.
The bar is also planning on implementing a customer appreciation program called the “Li'l Devils VIP Club” as a way to foster customer loyalty.
“We invite our customers to become a ‘Li'l Devil’ by joining our appreciation program,” says Fleith, “which entitles them to special offers for their consistent ‘bad behavior’.”
For Fleith, the opportunity to own his own establishment has been a long time in the making. During his decades in the business, he has seen the business and community change; not always for the better. He hopes that this venture will help to heal what he sees as a somewhat splintered gay community.
“After many years of reform, the gay community now feels comfortable at being ‘out’ in the straight community,” says Fleith. Collectively, we have to be proactive at elevating the perception of the gay bar. We are still perceived as fostering a dark and seedy atmosphere, overpriced cocktails, and a stream of drugs at the ready. Our job is to reeducate not only our own community, but the heterosexual community as well.”
Fleith goes on to explain how the explosion of social media has become a double edged sword in business, as well as our society.
“(Social media) has become a big part of our lives,” says Fleith, “we now rely on communicating with each other through our phones, iPads and the like to fulfill our social needs. Our challenge begins with our customers getting back to having human-to-human contact, and by re-inventing their interpersonal social habits.”
Still, at the center of Li'l Devils Lounge is the desire to create a place where individuals both gay and straight, can feel welcome.
“We welcome everyone to come in and allow us to share our hospitality,” says Fleith. “We know you can’t be good all the time. That’s why we encourage you to stop by and get your ‘naughty’ on!”
Li'l Devils Lounge is located at 225 S. Broadway. To learn more, visit their web site at www.lildevilslounge.com.