Property owner and designer David Gilbert has a knack for spotting a diamond in the rough. He’s had his eye on the small, nondescript building that formerly housed Groucho’s karaoke bar, at 935 Goss Ave., for quite some time, and when it became available to lease, he jumped at the opportunity.
Given recent announcements about redevelopment slated for the Germantown/Schnitzelberg neighborhoods, his timing couldn’t be better.
Plans for that area include two large, upscale apartment complexes — Germantown Mill Lofts and Bradford Mills Lofts — and a revitalization of sorts with the Three Points beautification project. There’s also been an influx of new and stable businesses like The Post, Lydia House, Four Pegs and Eiderdown; Gilbert’s upscale bar concept seems like a natural fit.
He envisions a dark, signless speakeasy that operates similarly to Chicago’s premier cocktail bar, the Violet Hour, where patrons must be on a list to enter the posh environs, and the number of occupants is controlled at all times.
But Gilbert doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea — it won’t be snooty to keep people out, it’s just a way of avoiding an overcrowded, shoulder-to-shoulder space that sometimes happens at hip night spots like Zanzabar or Garage Bar.
He tells Insider that his concept is similar to that of Meat, which was open for a short time above the also defunct Blind Pig in Butchertown. The secretive speakeasy vibe will be accentuated by a space that has no TVs, no neon beer signs, no live music and very few windows. There might even be a doorbell, because from the outside, the building will be sparse in signage.
Cocktails will be king at 935 — the bar’s moniker — but he and his business partner, Tommy Humphries, envision a small wine and beer program as well. He wants his bar to be upscale but not too pricey — a good cocktail will cost around $8 — so think more than the Back Door but less than Proof.
Gilbert says there is a lot of work to be done with the building, which will essentially have to be gutted and foundation issues repaired before any work begins on the decor. He hopes to be open by the end of the year, but doesn’t want to put any time stamp on the project. Quality is a priority.
“It’s all falling into place,” he says. “I don’t know what it is about that location, but I’ve always had a vision for it. I love the fact that it’s small and has few windows — it’s exactly what I need for my vision.”
Councilman Steve Magre, D-10, is supportive of Gilbert’s concept and believes it represents another sign the neighborhood is growing in a positive direction.
“To me, it represents a continuation of the momentum,” he tells Insider. “Talking about change does not cause real impact. But when space that is no longer being used or is outdated becomes re-used and is made over, that’s a good thing. It creates more interest in people willing to look at opportunities and become new shareholders in the area.”
Magre believes an upscale cocktail bar has great potential, especially when considering the latest demographics of his constituency.
“A few decades ago, setting up a high-price bar could have never made it,” he says. “I think the younger adults of today like more upscale places, and the more important thing to note is the demographics of both neighborhoods are a lot younger than even five years ago. I think they will do fine. They have a great location!”
Insider will continue to update you on the progress of 935.