Accountant Tom Baird is banking on nostalgia for the storied Ottawa Tavern as he prepares to open a new 'OT' in the Uptown neighborhood's arts and entertainment district. He expects to begin remodeling the site at 1817 Adams St. in six weeks, and neighboring businesses are cheering him on. The former Ottawa Tavern on Bancroft closed in 1999.
A black-and-white news photo sings of an earlier time as band members in shiny suits and thin ties pose in retro-1950s glory.
Above them, the marquee beams "Ottawa Tavern" in neon cursive on the front of the storied West Bancroft Street haunt. The tavern - which closed and later burned in 1999 - wants another curtain call.
This time it's on Uptown's Adams Street, a corridor increasingly visible for its night life and always hoping to increase its cultural stock.
Tom Baird, a 47-year-old accountant, plans to capture the "OT" nostalgia at 1817 Adams, and other nearby business owners are rooting him on. He'll begin remodeling in six weeks, he said.
The popular Homewreckers band played regularly at the Ottawa Tavern before the Bancroft Street bar shut down in 1999.
"My hope is that once the OT is open and once we start reaching people, they'll start coming out and see it's for real. When you get four or five bars in one place, you start to give people choices," he said. "You start to attract the watchers."
An encore for the "OT" is one of several ventures in Uptown since the city created an arts and entertainment district that added liquor licenses. Developers also are accessing a new grant program run by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority to rehab nearby 1301 Adams St. for condos and retail space.
Mr. Baird and a group of business owners, including Manos Greek Restaurant owner Manos Paschalis, want Adams to be an arts and entertainment destination, like German Village in Columbus, Mr. Baird said.
Business dreams are tied up in old brick and high ceilings on the street. And business owners lately have reason for optimism with several ventures and changes, including:
●The opening of Pub St. George. The bar is above Manos restaurant at 1701 Adams St.
●The sale of Wesley's Bar & Grill, 1201 Adams, to Michael Roberts, 34. Wesley's has been open weekends and late weeknights, unlike past practice.
●Market-rate condominiums with ground-level retail space at 1301 Adams.
Turning Adams into a hot spot has always moved with glacial speed, said Doug Shelton, past president of Toledo's Uptown Association and the owner of Superior Impressions, 12th Street. "Like everything in Uptown, it's an incremental sort of process. But it's been very positive; I think the future is bright."
He and others hope the Ottawa Tavern business will be the tipping point.
Wesley's new owner said he chose the business because of the friendly atmosphere on the street, including collaboration among business owners.
"I'm excited about downtown, in general, and particularly this area," he said. "No one wants to work with you [in the Warehouse District]. Everyone's just doing their own thing. Here, it's much more community."
Wesley's isn't fancy, but it's had staying power as an unofficial political meeting place. It might be most famous for a 1989 fist fight in the men's room between former Democratic County Treasurer Ray Kest and then-county Auditor David Lewandowski, a Republican. The two had sniped at each other for years and it boiled over. Wesley's was forever ingrained in political lore.
"It's neat. It's just more Toledo history," Mr. Roberts said. "We were going to call it the Kest Room."
If a business community is a family, then Manos Paschalis is the grandfather. A framed picture in his restaurant shows the building at 1701 Adams when he bought it in 1981.
The brick structure featured a malt liquor billboard and a fading painted sign for the Top Hat Lounge.
"It was a very rough bar with shootings and prostitution," said Mr. Paschalis, who as a young man repaired jet engines in Greece for the government.
He and the other business owners meet regularly and are raising money for street furniture and other improvements. He owns 10 properties in the area.
"I grew up in Athens. I'm from the big city," he said. "To me, it was a beautiful building."
Mr. Baird, who bought the building at 1817 Adams, has hired a manager, Therese King, who was manager of the original OT back in the 1990s. He has been meeting with Manos and other business owners.
He was researching business ideas, including one to pair with the glass museum, when a friend told a story about the old bar. "I thought, Ottawa Tavern. It was like destiny."
The corporation had expired and the name was available. He knew he wouldn't have to market the business. "We already have architectural drawings, and we hope to start construction in six weeks," Mr. Baird said. "It's beyond a pipe dream. I have money invested."
His is a business plan designed to attract baby boomers who fondly remember the old haunt and its unique combination of working-class ambiance and hip, cutting edge live music. They have money, and they need more places to go, Mr. Baird said.
The band in the glossy photo, The Homewreckers, has since broken up. But frontman Steve Athanas has agreed to play the opening night in September, Mr. Baird said.
"That's exactly the market we're trying to tap into," he said.
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick
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