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Posted on Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Alley Bar reopens Tuesday under ownership of the BTB/Good Time Charley's team

By Paula Gardner

alley bar.jpg

The Alley Bar will be the first downtown-area endeavor for the owners of BTB Burritos and Good Time Charley's, both of which cater to University of Michigan students. From left, Paul Drennan, general manager; Robbie Schulz, who will be head bartender at the Alley Bar when it reopens Tuesday; and Justin Herrick, co-owner.

Melanie Maxwell |

An Ann Arbor-based bar and restaurant group that grew around the University of Michigan campus now is turning toward downtown this week when it takes over operations of The Alley Bar.

The partners behind BTB Burrito and Good Time Charley’s bought the business in late July, planning to reopen it on Tuesday after taking it over today.

Longtime downtown bar owner Andy Gulvezan, who died in February, founded the Alley Bar at 112 W. Liberty. It’s small - 1,500-square-feet according to city records - and known as a “townie” type of place. There’s no food, no upscale décor and no outside seating.

Now, as Justin Herrick and Adam Lowenstein take it over, little will change, Herrick said. That includes the name.

“It’ll be a dive bar,” Herrick said, “with high-end options on the menu.”

He continued: “We’re not trying to change it too much. We want to fix what can be fixed … but we’re going to keep the relatively same feel and atmosphere to it.”

Former bartender Robbie Schulz will be returning to the bar, bringing with him experience at high-end Detroit establishments. He’s partnering with general manager Paul Drennan, who runs Good Time Charley’s, to build the right spectrum - ranging from basic beers to craft cocktails - for their new stint at the Alley Bar.

Both say they’ve also been clients of the bar, and look forward to leading the BTB partnership’s expansion beyond the student market.

Herrick and Lowenstein bought Good Time Charley’s in 2007, turning it into a leading student bar. In 2009, the bar topped the list of liquor sales in Washtenaw County, according to state records. The upper level, meanwhile, is BTB Cantina, a restaurant with the menu of the group’s other two BTB locations in Ann Arbor.

With the acquisition of Good Time Charley’s, the owners learned they like running bars, Herrick said.

“It’s a little easier (than a restaurant,),” Herrick said. “And more profitable.”

The pair’s existing businesses are built on a student-oriented clientele, so moving downtown “diversifies our customer base,” he said.

The business had been listed for sale over recent months, said Jim Chaconas of Colliers International, who also is helping Gulvezan’s family explore options for the Full Moon, which has been closed for several months.

For the Alley Bar listing, several potential operators were interested, but it was the BTB partnership’s track record that helped drive the deal, Chaconas said.

Over recent years, as Gulvezan battled cancer, the bar suffered from some inattention. However, its fundamentals remained sound, Chaconas said. Part of that, he added, is its reputation as a destination for customers who simply want a drink in a casual environment.

“This is where average people go to drink,” he said. “It’s a place to have a beer or watch sports. It’s not pretentious.”

And while many establishments on Main Street have to turn to food and high-end menus to cover the downtown Ann Arbor overhead, The Alley Bar’s size and lack of a food menu was part of the appeal of taking it over, Herrick said.

Over the first few weeks, Herrick plans to make minor changes to the bar. One may be rearranging the seating; a bathroom renovation will come soon. After the liquor license transfer in 4-6 months, some more minor modifications could follow, including the addition of seasonal outdoor seating.

There are no plans to add kitchen facilities. Staffing will launch with 5-7 employees besides Schulz. It will be open Monday through Saturday, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Schulz said he’s excited about the opportunity to return to bartended in downtown Ann Arbor, and also to design a drink menu. He’s also looking forward to building relationships with customers who appreciate the Alley Bar for what he makes it.

“A dive bar,” Schulz said. “And I want to embrace that.”

Paula Gardner is Business News Director at Contact her at 734-623-2586.


4 Fingers

Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 8:18 a.m.

too bad the old staff was doing 2 for ones with almost everyone...that'll kill a business quick


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 9:51 p.m.

The new owners said, "Were not trying to change it too much" but as a long time, and now former, regular I have to say that the Alley is a totally different bar under this new management. Too bad they had to fire my favorite staff in Ann Arbor.

Wally P

Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 9:35 p.m.

Best of luck with the new business. It is a shame that the old employees of the Alley were put out of work, though. They had a pretty loyal following of locals.


Tue, Aug 3, 2010 : 12:15 a.m.

This is what the social scene in Ann Arbor desperately needed, a bar owned and operated by local people who take pride in what they provide. This place will be an instant hit with townies AND folks from out of town, a kind of place where everyone knows your name. Cheers to Adam, Justin, Robben, & Paul!


Mon, Aug 2, 2010 : 5:47 p.m.

That place will never change. And that's a good thing. After Andy bought the Liberty Inn, I helped him turn it into Kitty O'Shea's, at the time Ann Arbor's only Irish bar. Tiny little grill and fryer behind the bar, and live music on Sundays and Thursdays (remember Colin and Terry?).Crazy St Patrick's days. Good times. I even lived upstairs. Later it turned into an expanded Round Table, then The Flame moved over there for a while until Babs took over, then the Alley Bar. Always been a great little spot to hide out. The bathrooms have always been nasty and the a/c was always spotty at best. Can't wait to check out the latest incarnation.


Mon, Aug 2, 2010 : 4:41 p.m.

These are good guys who know this location. It's gunna be a great place.


Mon, Aug 2, 2010 : 1:04 p.m.

If someone knows how to do a "bar" Paul and Robbie are it. Congrats!


Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 10:59 p.m.

Paul and Robbie will do it right! How can a bathroom renovation 'scare' someone? I remember the one (and only) urinal in the men's room being out of service (a garbage bag taped over it) for months!! I know that these gents will keep the place clean, which will be a huge improvement. I really like and respect the former owners/management, but they really seemed to have given up the last few years. I think I'll start patronizing this establishment again!

David Briegel

Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 4:27 p.m.

It's been downhill since the Heath's sold the Liberty Inn!! Now that was an Ann Arbor tavern!


Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 3:20 p.m.

far from a dive bar, the closest ann arbor has is the 8ball and even that's more of a hipster bar than dive. You need Vietnam vets drinking pitchers at 7am to be a dive bar. Opening at 7pm hardly qualifies. but whatever ann arbor, enjoy the "culture"

jane doe

Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 2:23 p.m.

I hope your 5-7 staff launch includes the employees that were under the previous owners. Or, at least, offered them that opportunity to do so... Otherwise, that's bad business. Especially, if you want to keep this a townie bar, continue to respect the bar and it's previous patrons for what it was, before your purchase of it. If that is the case, I welcome you to the downtown community.


Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

Glad to see people doing something with this establishment! I can't wait to see what you do with the place! Change is hard for many people, but I see it as an excellent oppurtunity for the community. Good Luck!!!


Sun, Aug 1, 2010 : 11:21 a.m.

Please dont ruin this place, even a bathroom renovation scares me.