If You Build It, They Will Come

381 Main Bar and Grill Went from Haute Martini Hangout to Standout Sports Bar, with a Little Help from Nightclub & Bar

Drastic is the only term to describe the change at 381 Main Bar and Grill in Little Falls, N.J., but the shift was one Owner Steve Baskinger knew he needed to make. “We used to be a Martini bar. We were a totally white lounge; white walls, white leather couches, white everything,” he chuckles. Business as such wasn’t abysmal, but it wasn’t thriving, either. After recognizing the need for an overhaul, and undertaking a gut renovation and a transformation into a sports and rock music-themed bar and grill, Baskinger’s business is now enjoying a welcome resurgence.

381 Main
The Little Falls, N.J., 381 Main Bar and Grill’s massive renovation from Martini lounge to sports bar involved installing a wood-burning pizza oven, 17 LED TVs, a full A/V system and a new lighting system

Last June, the Martini lounge was shuttered, and for five straight months, the redesign took shape. “I have another bar and grill one town over, and it was doing great, so the decision was made to transform 381 Main,” Baskinger says. “We wanted to keep up with the times and the current trends and our new vision does that.” After selling off what he could and junking the rest of his old furniture, fixtures and equipment, Baskinger started the remodeling process.

“We had old wood floors and had to rip them out. For the next two weeks, we polished the 100-year-old cement base with diamond polishers to get to the state it is now — nice and shiny,” Baskinger says. He then turned his focus to the basic elements of the room, measuring and building out the 51-foot rusted steel and mahogany bar, getting the back bar design started, securing all the requisite equipment to furnish both those areas, and finally framing out the kitchen area before dropping in the grills, fryers and other appliances. “We’ve never had food here before, but we wanted to add that. We even put in a brick oven pizza maker at the end of the bar,” he says.

381 Main Bar and Grill
Before 381 Main transformed into a sports bar, it was an all white Martini lounge.

Baskinger did most of the design and construction himself, with some help from local contractors and companies. The impetus for many of the room’s aesthetic flourishes came directly “from the pages of Nightclub & Bar magazine and from the Vegas trade show,” he laughs. “We put in 8,000 pounds of railroad track as our footrails at the bar, and we dropped in some Big Ass ceiling fans, both of which I first saw in the magazine. I got some great ideas flipping through issues.” 

He also notes his 15 years in the bar business and seeing how other venues accentuated their establishments didn’t hurt. “There’s a few sports bars in Florida that I drew inspiration from,” he says. As a result, a 1970s-era Yankees scoreboard adorns one wall, while custom-made Yankee and New York Giants’ surfboards and sharks dot the ceilings. “All of which are original and my creation. You won’t see stuff from Jack Daniel’s or Budweiser hanging on my walls,” he laughs.

381 Main Bar and GrillOther decorative touches include a drumhead signed by Beatle Ringo Starr, guitars and a fully functioning barber pole. Cool rock and sports memorabilia aside, the electronics in the room are equally impressive. “We’ve got 17 LED TVs, a Matrix Switcher in the control room, a Color Kinetic lighting system and a full A/V system,” Baskinger says, which means they can play songs with their videos on the TVs, or an actual DJ or VJ can come in and take control of the room. The music can even be left up to the patrons via a Rock-Ola digital jukebox.

As for his decision to revamp, “there were only pros on my list; no cons. We went from being open for only four nights a week to seven nights so that’s been generating more money. Our drink prices went down, and we now can serve food.” In fact, the only drawback was the financing. “It was tough to get what we needed, which was around $350,000. It’s tough to get a commercial loan in this economic climate, so we went private, but we got every dollar,” Baskinger explains.

Most important, however, is the customer response, which is overwhelmingly positive. “People love it,” Baskinger says proudly. “Guests now feel more at home, and it’s got a much better vibe than the nightclub atmosphere we used to have. So now we have a totally new crowd, one which draws from towns around us, instead of just the town we’re in.”

The reaction has been so affirming, no advertising or proactive promotions were needed after 381 Main reopened in November. “People were itching to get back in. The right folks in the area knew about it, and people saw the construction going on, so the word of mouth spread quickly,” Baskinger says. “Some of our bartenders from our other venues told their friends and our first week back, it was very busy. The local media noticed and ran a few stories and that’s the only press we’ve had,” he recounts. “But given the outstanding turn-out, I don’t know if we could’ve done any better had we planned some huge relaunch party,” proving that sometimes the best way to draw a crowd is to build a place that becomes the go-to destination for everyone around town. NCB

Editor’s Note
We field a lot of calls and e-mails from readers here at Nightclub & Bar, some with questions and some with success stories. 381 Main is a great example of a reader who came to us with his story of how he refreshed his business. We think bar and club owners, managers and operators learn best from each other. If you’ve got a success story to share or a question to ask visit nightclub.com and click Contact Us, or just e-mail me directly at [email protected]. We’ll respond quickly because we want to know what’s working, what’s not and what’s challenging you. See you at the bar! – Donna Hood Crecca, Publisher & Editorial Director

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