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Inside The Circ Bar, one of Ann Arbor's newest entertainment venues

Karaoke is back on 1st Street!

The back lounge at The Circ Bar.    Photo credit | Trevor Boyle
The back lounge at The Circ Bar. Photo credit | Trevor Boyle

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Located in one of Ann Arbor’s landmark buildings, the newly renovated The Circ Bar isn’t flashy or showy.

Exposed wood beams and bare brick bring a warmth to the new venue during the chilliest time of the year, while a futuristic bar -- complete with lights illuminating from underneath and metal paneling -- update the space.

We sat down with one of the new owners, Roger Ahn, to learn more about the new look and new attitude of one of the oldest entertainment venues downtown.

Now owned and operated by Krazieye Productions -- a cooperation of siblings Roger Ahn, Grace Ahn and Steven Ahn, as well as a few others -- The Circ Bar had its soft opening in September and has been growing in presence ever since.

In the main lounge, there is a corner specifically reserved for those brave enough to get up on stage and sing their hearts out. Karaoke, which happens every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., is a tradition that the new owners have continued on from the old Circus Bar & Billiards.

Pool tables, big screens and a dance floor complete the main lounge. Long tables topped with mini-games entertain those who would rather sit and chat with friends while tasting something from the evolving menu.

The view from the karaoke corner of the main lounge at The Circ Bar.    Photo credit | Trevor Boyle
The view from the karaoke corner of the main lounge at The Circ Bar. Photo credit | Trevor Boyle

But the massive main lounge isn’t the best thing about The Circ Bar. The back lounge, a smaller, more intimate space, has a life of its own -- an A-shaped frame of bare wooden beams and floor-to-ceiling windows leads to a picturesque view of the back deck. A fireplace, which should be operational soon, completes the more tranquil look. During the day, the back lounge is calmer than its large counterpart and serves as a great space for people to work on laptops or have a date. It’s its own environment and takes on its own life. Ahn told us that this was done intentionally and that it was a part of the design architect, sister Grace Ahn’s, vision for the space -- for visitors who enter the space to feel an immediate change.

But while the back lounge seems more like a place for quiet contemplation than it does a party venue, Ahn and general manager Race Rogers, told us that the hidden space frequently turns into a dance party once the music gets turned up.

Details are the name of the game at The Circ Bar -- and this even applies to the bathrooms: the bathrooms in the main lounge are a deep red or blue coupled with antique mirrors and coordinating tiles. Look for the Edison bulbs sprinkled around the venue or take a look at the table legs throughout the main lounge, which are pipe joints welded by local tradesmen. Much of the woodwork within the lounge was customized for the space and done by Jove Cantelon at Cantelon Finishers. Mini-games like shuffleboard are scattered atop the table so that visitors can relax, play a game and have fun.

The stunning interior is the brainchild of owner Grace Ahn, who wanted to have old elements combined with clean lines and perforated metal. Ahn told us that his sister's inspiration came from the contrast of old steampunk and futuristic Blade-runner like designs. She also designed the lighting.

While being in a prime location downtown, the building has a very long history -- from being a German brewery to grain mill to Ann Arbor Implement and then antiques to Circ Bar & Billards, Gotham Club, Millenium Club and Cavern Club. Ahn told us the history of the building and is clearly passionate about the natural beauty of the building, from the shading of the exposed clay bricks down to the details of the old nails that are seen in the beams. He and his siblings want the building to age well and have really invested in not just the interior but the exterior of the building.

Ahn even joked that the picturesque roof deck was an architectural challenge, as supports needed to be put in with their own foundations, but that the supporting platform is so strong that a helicopter could land on it.

From the outside deck looking into the back lounge of The Circ Bar.   Photo credit | Trevor Boyle
From the outside deck looking into the back lounge of The Circ Bar. Photo credit | Trevor Boyle

On top of its new look, the new owners have brought a new attitude to The Circ Bar, and want the bar to be as sustainable as possible. The venue produces a low amount of landfill waste, due to recycling efforts, LED efficient lighting and a reduced use of plastics (you’ll have to ask for a straw).

The trio of siblings, all U of M alumni, loved Ann Arbor and wanted to return while providing Ann Arborites a space that allows them to get away, and to make a space that the community is excited for and has fun in.

As of now, ideas for the rest of the spaces in the building -- an upstairs residence, two ground floor venues and a basement -- are under wraps but Ahn said that the owners aren’t in a rush. By being owner-operators, they can take their time to develop the space in the way they envision it so that each space fits within the overall scheme of the rest of the building.

But the goal with The Circ Bar has been achieved. It’s a destination venue for locals and visitors alike looking for a cool space to hang out that has grown organically via word of mouth.

Look out for future events like its Ugly Sweater Party, its New Year's Eve party, or live DJs every Thursday.

The Circ Bar is open Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday, 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.;
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight and is located at 210 S 1st St.

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