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Downtown Ann Arbor’s historic Aut Bar closes its doors permanently after 25 years

LGBTQ bar has faced declining revenue, other problems over past year

Aut Bar's patio in Braun Court on Sept. 19, 2017 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Aut Bar's patio in Braun Court on Sept. 19, 2017 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Aut Bar has been a long-standing refuge for the LGBTQ community in Ann Arbor, but a decline in revenue, impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and other problems have led to its permanent closure.

Announced on Saturday through a Facebook post, the decision was made due to financial losses, operating restrictions and an unclear future.

Dear Aut Bar Community, In moments of upheaval and uncertainty, bars and restaurants play a critical role in offering...

Posted by Aut Bar on Saturday, 6 June 2020

The business was bought in 2019 by BarStar Group, which also operates Nightcap, Lo-Fi and Babs’ Underground in Ann Arbor.

Through email, Micah Bartelme, CEO of BarStar Group said that Aut Bar had been facing financial challenges even before it changed hands from its original owners, Keith Orr and Martin Contreras, who created Aut Bar 25 years ago.

“After a year of operating at a loss, Aut Bar was in a very vulnerable position when the pandemic struck and shutdowns went into effect,” Bartelme said. “With planned renovations halted and financing dried up, the future business climate uncertain, social distancing restrictions on operating capacities, and the possibility of further shutdowns, it was difficult to see a way forward.”

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Bartelme said the future of the bar is uncertain but BarStar Group is “exploring multiple options.”

BarStar Group continued to operate the historic space as an LGBTQ bar when Orr and Contreras retired in 2019.

Although the physical space is closed, Aut Bar intellectual property and social media pages have been given back to Orr and Contreras.

According to Bartelme, this was done so that members of the Aut Bar community could continue to engage with each other in case a future buyer doesn’t want to continue the bar’s legacy.

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