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Posted on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Ann Arbor bar owners acquire downtown club Live at PJ's, Goodnite Gracie

By Lizzy Alfs


Robbie Schulz, Paul Drennan and Adam Lowenstein purchased Live at PJ's and Goodnite Gracie and plan to remodel and rebrand the businesses.

Angela Cesere |

Related story: Sale leaves concern about future of live music in Ann Arbor

The partners of downtown Ann Arbor restaurants and bars BTB Burrito, Alley Bar and Good Time Charley’s confirmed in an interview that they have acquired downtown club Live at PJ’s and the connected bar called Goodnite Gracie.

Adam Lowenstein, Justin Herrick, Robbie Schulz and Paul Drennan closed last week on a deal to buy the businesses, located at 102 S. First St. in Ann Arbor. They plan to renovate, revive and rebrand the roughly 8,000-square-foot space.

“We’re taking over a failing business, not something that was cranking,” Drennan said. “So we’re very cautious, and we certainly want to move forward with all the different communities within the area in mind.”

Former owner Derek Aldridge told that the deal materialized last week after the business had struggled to turn a profit for a long time. The problem, he said, is the high cost of live music and the minimal payback.

Live music “just didn’t pay the rent,” he said.

“It comes down to simple economics, where unfortunately a band costs at least three times as much as a DJ, and if you don’t do three times the business, you can’t support it,” he said.

Both clubs hosted live acts on a regular and semi-regular basis, although they also shifted toward more DJ music in recent years.

The new owners plan to keep the venues closed during January for renovations.

The upstairs space, which they’ll call LIVE, will have a DJ Thursday through Saturday. There will be no food, but a big emphasis on crafted cocktails and dancing. Drinks will likely range from $4 to $10.

“There’s a lack of a dance club downtown, especially near Main Street,” Lowenstein said. “Upstairs will be the kind of nightclub atmosphere.”

Lowenstein added: “On other nights of the week, we want to pursue live music. We want live entertainment for sure.”

Drennan said LIVE would be “a phenomenal meeting space with an emphasize on great music that will cut across the board. There will be classic rock right through to the ‘Top 40’ so we can cater to a broader crowd.”

The downstairs bar’s name will change from Goodnite Gracie to The Last Word, named after a 1920s cocktail from the Detroit Athletic Club. The bar will focus on crafted drinks with some live entertainment on a small stage, such as a pianist or a guitar artist. Most cocktails will be priced around $9, but will probably range from $5 to $14.


The remodeled bars, located at 102 S. First St., will be called LIVE a The Last Word.

Angela Cesere |

alley bar.jpg

Paul Drennan, Robbie Schulz and Justin Herrick in 2010.

Melanie Maxwell |

“We’re picking up on cocktail trends that are happening worldwide,” Lowenstein said. “We’ll have aging cocktails, and will be doing our own foam and bitters.”

With a seating capacity of 96 people, the owners plan to only allow 96 customers inside at a time, in an effort to maintain an “intimate” feeling.

“Downstairs, we want to give you that space to breathe and the elbow room,” Drennan explained. “We want to give you access to the waiters. It’s going to be a very social, sit-down environment.”

Although the two venues used to be very intertwined and people could go back and forth, the new owners are clear: these will be two very different and separate businesses, although they hope to target the mid 20s to 50s population at each.

“We hope to have two separate entrances and two separate identities,” Lowenstein said.

They plan to hire about 25 employees, and have invited former Live at PJ's and Goodnite Gracie employees to apply.

Developing a successful business

Lowenstein first got his hand in business when he and Herrick opened BTB Burrito in 2004 when he was a senior at the University of Michigan.

The duo then bought Good Time Charley’s on South University in 2007 and have since turned it into a leading bar catering to students.

In 2010, they partnered with Drennan - who helped open two restaurants at the MGM Grand in Detroit - and he became general manager of Charley’s.

Schulz, who also worked at MGM and developed a beverage program, came in the picture as general manager at Alley Bar when the group purchased it in 2010.

The most important aspect of running a business, they all agree, is simply listening to your customers.

“We listen to the market and our ears are always open,” Schulz said.

“You have to listen and you must adapt and change,” Drennan added.

And at the new LIVE and The Last Word, they plan to do just that.

“The hard part for any owner of a failing business is people don’t necessarily give you a second chance,” Lowenstein said. “But we’re getting a chance to make a first impression and that’s key for us.”

“The physical space is awesome, so we’re going to bring good music, good employees, good drinks and a good atmosphere,” he continued. “We really feel like we can bring people back.”

At least one local musician who played regularly at Live at PJ’s hopes the new owners make live music a priority.

Laith Al-Saadi, an acclaimed multi-genre guitarist who played at Live each Thursday, lamented the deal, saying it was a loss for the local music scene.

“It’s a significant loss,” he said. “For me as a lover of blues, jazz, rock and roll…there really aren’t very many venues that support live music in town.”

While it’s unclear when the new operation will host live musicians and which ones, Al-Saadi said he’ll continue with his regular Monday gigs at Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti, Tuesdays at the Black Pearl, and Wednesdays at Bar Louie, in addition to playing most weekend nights at Guy Hollerin’s or elsewhere.

For the time being, he said, “I can use the night off.” Entertainment Director Bob Needham contributed to this story.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. Henry Ford


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

The happy hour gigs are great and I know that the musicians work exceptionally cheap (compared to most venues...less than significantly less than half pay). With better food it would even work better. Could always do the DJ's after 9:00 PM on Fridays. These have been a great draw (in general). I think the new owners need to keep this going, maybe take a look at which bands drew in crowds and which did not. Maybe more rock and roll and less rockabilly (other than maybe Drivin Sideways).

free form

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:18 p.m.

Am I missing something? It's so strange to hear that Ann Arbor "doesn't support" live music. Really? That's news to me and all the people I regularly see at The Blind Pig, The Ark, Kerrytown, TOP, Gracie's, Woodruffs, and so many other venues around town... I have always loved LIVE for booty shaking on a Saturday night and Gracie's for a more low-key get together. Sounds like the new owners recognize the strengths of each bar and will cater to them accordingly.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

I sure wish Ann Arbor would get a piano bar maybe one night a week or so for the old queens. I miss the old Paul Tompkins @ Weber's days.

Mike Langford

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

Just make sure to keep Laith Al-Saadi as a band downstairs, preferably on Thursdays! They were pretty much the only reason to go there. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Check them out! (and no I have nothing to do with the band)


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

isnt saying BTB Burrito like saying ATM Machine?


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

How sad that Ann Arborites seem unable to support live music, especially jazz. So many lamented the closing of the Firefly but were'nt there to support it when it was open. Now we're losing Live. Kudos and Thanks to Kerrytown Concert House, Zal Gaz Grotto and the Elks for opening their doors and arms and embracing the local jazz community. Please show your support by coming out and listening!

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

Wet T-shirt contests?


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

I don't wish the new owners bad luck, but Ann Arbor doesn't need another yuppie bar serving designer drinks that may cost $9.00! There are plenty of that type of pseudo-sophisticated venues around for those who don't care what they pay for drinks and/or food if they are visiting their idea of a suave type of place. Usually they are pretty superficial and not worth blowing lots of cash at. We certainly do want a place where Drivin' Sideways can continue its very quality, cozy type of playing, without the need for rip-off prices to pay for a remodeling job. Ann Arbor has a large group of music lovers and there sure aren't enough places supporting the vibrant, local scene that has always existed here. Hope it can continue!


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

Lets be clear: Live music isnt as much about hearing original songs as it is about appreciating talent for playing instruments and carrying a tune - as well as the entertainment value of watching a performance. even hearing &quot;the same old cover songs&quot; over and over again is incomparable to a dj. a focus on local original shows would be a wonderful thing for Ann Arbor to bring back - but first the focus on live music in general needs to be revived. that being said - I do wish the new owners all the best of luck; that building is a wonderful venue and they have a heavy task ahead of them. here's hoping they can turn it around and make it a space we can all be proud of.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

Let's be clear, Laith and Lucas Paul are upset about the state of live music in Ann Arbor. Well, maybe they should play some of their own songs at their gigs. You can walk into anyone of their shows every week and hear the same COVER songs over and over. Yes,they play them well, but to me that is not too superior to a dj spinning someone else's records. The new &quot;Live&quot;, if that remains the name, is going to feature more than one type of live enertainment. People need to be more positive and quit knocking them for trying. Most of you probably have never worked in a bar, let alone owned one and have no idea what it takes. Also, read the article before commenting.

Laith Al-Saadi

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

Obviously, you should actually come to one of my shows before judging. I have 3 CDs of all original music out and 2 more soon to come. I play original music at all of my gigs. My CDs get airplay on WCSX, 107.1, WEMU and are on iTunes. People actually pay for tickets to see me in other towns! If I am playing a bar for 4 hours, you're right, I play a lot of covers. We still improvise over them and make them completely different every time - as my group is composed of Jazz musicians... but I feel that 4 hours of unfamiliar music is not the way to attract fans or keep a crowd interested. Come to the Magic Bag tomorrow night for the Anti-Freeze Blues fest ($20 per ticket), all the songs I am playing are original. In fact all the gigs that I play in a concert or festival setting revolve around my original music. You pass judgement too quickly when you have no idea what I actually do. it verges on slanderous when ignorant people like you walk into a bar for 20 minutes and try to reduce my life's work to being a cover artist. I have made a living solely performing music since I was 18 years old. I have a degree from the U of M in Jazz Studies. The reason why we play so many covers is because most people would rather hear things that they are already familiar with... Unfortunately. That said, every cover we play is a unique interpretation of the song and involves improvisation each time. It is nothing like a DJ. It actually requires skill and knowledge of music and your instrument. I play almost 300 shows a year... How many times have you seen me?


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

I did not see anything in this article that said how things would be different than they are at these clubs other than new owners and separate entrances. These two places have been around forbyears and always tend to fail. These guys better come up with a new idea or these bars will do what they always do, generate initial interest, getva good crowd for a but and then fizzle. I did not see any groundbreaking ideas in this article. They could start by changing the name.

Lucas Paul

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

&quot;Re-branding&quot; means taking the word &quot;Live&quot; completely off the marquee. This is insulting to actual musicians looking for work in live clubs. I sure hope these guys hired consultants, because so far it's not so different than the previous business plan.

Jordan Miller

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

It's great to see a new generation taking hold in the downtown A2 empire; especially when they're good people who run their businesses well and treat employees with respect. Hopefully they'll also carry the mantle of giving back to the community. Congratulations, guys. Can't wait to go to a bar I haven't gone to in years.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 1:37 a.m.

Bring back the Rubyat (however it was spelled)!


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 1:27 a.m.

I sure hope they find a way to continue booking Drivin' Sideways in the early evenings on Fridays. They always get a good crowd of regulars and it is a whole lot of fun. New Years Eve for the Geezers (over at 9PM) was a riot last week! DJ's just don't do it for me.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

&quot;There will be classic rock right through to the 'Top 40 &quot; Yuck ! ..... I wont be there.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

&quot;The upstairs space, which they'll call LIVE, will have a DJ Thursday through Saturday.&quot; Oh, so the name will be ironic.

say it plain

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:04 a.m.

Lol... It is also a sad irony that a 'college town' has spaces which *could* become good hosting locales for live music but which don't because the landlords charge such obscene rents that nobody can make it work. I wish the current owners lots of luck in their attempts! I really hope they can pull it off, because Ann Arbor needs more of such efforts!


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

For a college town, I dont understand the dead music scene here...I mean having to drive to ferndale to see live music does not make real sense with a student target market with no cars such an easy sell you would think.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.

I've read and re-read my post and I'm struggling to find the comment where you think I insulted someone, let alone the crowd at Rush Street. I'm 33 and fall smack dab in the middle of the Rush Street demographic, which enjoys being older than the college crowd, but nowhere near thinking about being our parents ages. I've also been DJing for 14 years (multiple cities/states/countries), so the inexperienced comment doesn't really hold up either. My post was more cautionary than anything, and if it somehow offended you, I apologize. The truth of the matter is that I'd challenge you to find a bar (no food) in the area that pulls a crowd consistently ranging in ages from 20-50. At the extreme ends, the age groups couldn't be much more different. They've experienced different things in life, they have drastically different income levels, and they were raised on different music. This doesn't even take into account the fact that they go to a bar for completely different reasons. While I'll agree this CAN be done, when music is the focus of your establishment, it takes an extremely talented musical director/programmer to make this environment work. Think wedding reception. One good one for fifty bad ones? It's pretty easy to see them ultimately marketing LIVE to the younger college crowd and the new The Last Word to a young professional or older age group. Let's take this situation out of the nightlife industry. How many items can be successfully marketed to 20 year olds AND 50 year olds? I'm not sure anyone wants to be the minivan or peanut butter of the bar business. These guys know what they're doing and I don't, for a second, believe this article gives an accurate picture of what changes are in store. I've gotta say though, that it's interesting to see what people perceive the A2 bar industry to be. Lots of things couldn't be farther from the truth.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 10:14 p.m.

Oh, I see. He just WORKS at a place that knows 30-45 year olds like to dance, DJ or live -- and have the money to support the bars (and that is my demographic, I was being sarcastic about Grandma moves). Maybe I'm naive, but I think you have to be pretty inexperienced to actually mention your employer, while insulting their customers. Guess I'm getting old.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

@LDR, That is not what cubicle said at all. He WORKS at a place that caters to the older crowd (Rush Street) and at a place that caters to the student population (Necto). Generally speaking those two crowds will not work in the SAME venue. Most 20 somethings do not want to go to the club where their mom and dad will show up. Most 40 somethings do not want to hang out with their kids at the bar. These are the facts of life. He is not saying you can not get your groove on, but I doubt you will be twirling your glow stick on Necto next week.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

@ cubicle. &quot; I don't want to go to a bar where I might share the dancefloor with people 30 years older than me. I just don't.&quot; And you DJ at Rush St.? I find that hard to believe. Who do you think has the money to pay for $10 drinks? Not 20 year olds. Those are the people who drink at home first, then go out, contributing to the dearth of live music by not actually buying anything in the venues. I love good live music and a good DJ, either one can be delightful. But I hate shallow arrogant people who think life ends after 30. Grow up. Grandma can teach you some moves.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:15 a.m.

The student market here is far different than most college campuses. The &quot;thumping techno club music&quot; that has been so prevalent in European culture has finally made its way across the pond and that can easily be shown by Necto bringing in some of the world's biggest producer/DJs on Wednesdays all this Fall. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the international student population, but a lot of it also has to do with the type of students the University enrolls. I'd guess that the &quot;no car and no money&quot; percentage is much lower than other Big 10 universities so they are much more mobile than one would expect. The reality is that this city is rife with bars that have outlived their relevance, whether they have &quot;live&quot; music or hire a DJ. Being dated is cool for places like Fleetwood and, no offense, Alley Bar. There's a certain ambiance that they provide for customers who are looking for that. Heck, Wednesday night at the Alley Bar is one of my favorite places to go out during the week. However, the nightlife industry is, and should be, continually evolving which there seems to be little of in this town. My concerns are on the music selection and aiming for the 20s to 50s crowd. LIVE is notorious for being the &quot;we don't know where else to go, let's go there&quot; place. A broadly aged clientele sounds good in theory, but in practice, you end up with a bunch of patrons who never really know what to expect when they go. There's a reason that places like Ricks, Necto, and Rush Street are packed every weekend. The people going know exactly what to expect. I don't want to go to a bar where I might share the dancefloor with people 30 years older than me. I just don't. i wish them all the best, and by the look of their other ventures they're doing a great job so far. I hope that spot becomes usable again because it's a giant area and could use a bunch of people. Disclaimer: I currently DJ at Rush Street and have played at Necto, BTB C

Kyle Mulka

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 9:24 p.m.

Based on what I've seen with their other ventures, I think they'll do well.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

That's too bad. It pays the rent in Austin, TX. It pays the musicians too. I don't think Ann Arbor is too small to support a network of musicians and venues. It just doesn't want to. Austin is to indie music what Portland is to cycling. What's Ann Arbor's ambition? The university? I don't know..


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

What an odd comparison. Austin has almost 800,000 residents, Ann Arbor has about 114,000. Apples to oranges.

say it plain

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

Right @johnnya2, I never meant to imply that the entertainment affects the price of rent at all, so I don't get your point... Yes, DJs cost less, and so make it easier to cover rent each month than do live bands. Plus, as you point out, the demo who cares about live music is older, that's true as well. My point was merely that if rents weren't so high, there would be more opportunity for venues to be able to afford to pay live bands over DJs. I think the point is *exactly* live music for the sake of live music, at least to some degree. Obviously at some of these places, we're talking dropping in for drinks and some entertainment with friends and so on. It can be done to DJs, or it can be done to live music. And there used to be more opportunity to do this to live music. And the question is why. And I think clearly the answer is in part: RENT.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

@sayitplain, Rent does not change based on DJ versus live music. Rent is rent is rent. The COST for live music is paying a band. The cost for paying a DJ is a third that cost. As for the comparison to Austin, I think comparing a city that has seven times the population of Ann Arbor and if you include the suburbs has over 1.7 million people is not an honest comparison. Ann Arbor supports a number of live music venues, but live music for the sake of live music is not the point. I have seen great acts at The Ark (not-for-profit), the Blind Pig and at Hill, and the Michigan Theater. The audience for the live bands that would play at a club like this tend to skew older and will not go out on work nights. I have driven past Necto on many nights and seen lines around the corner. The market has changed. It is not 1972 anymore.

say it plain

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 10:44 p.m.

Do you think it's an issue of Ann Arbor &quot;just doesn't want to&quot;? Or is it that Ann Arbor *Landlords* just won't get past the idea that they get to make ridiculous rents for their 'service' of buying up real estate? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question at all, btw... My suspicion has long been that the decline in Ann Arbor's funkiness and support for live music is part of that has been largely due to one thing: rents. If &quot;three times a dj&quot; could still allow for the paying of rent for these establishments, we'd see more of it, for the sake of becoming a go-to hangout for listening to live music. But if &quot;three times a dj&quot; means rent can't be made, then it's a definite no-go. I don't think band-fees have increased that much over the years. I think rents around here have increased at more than inflation by far...partly because it's a town so very centered on the University which also lives by this college-cost-inflation bubble (while Austin has much life outside their U economically), and partly because of general commercial properties pricing trends in places like Ann Arbor. I think it's generally wrecking the nice little city we've had here and making it over-precious and under-interesting...

Ben Connor Barrie

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

So far I've been pretty pleased with the other BTB ventures. Hope this next one works out well too.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

Happy hours on Friday's from 6 to 9 have been like &quot;small townie parties&quot; since they started at Mr. Floods Party back in the 60's. Blind Pig, PJ's, and several other bars have welcomed local musicians who worked for the tips that went into the jug. Hope there is somewhere that we can all get together and hear our favorite local musicians in the near future.

hut hut

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

It is a cultural shift. At one time in the not too distant past Ann Arbor was a regional hub for live music and working bands. When people are more interested in thumping techno club music and expensive live concerts, working bands are relegated to the background.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

Live music "just didn't pay the rent," he said. That should be, Bad live music didn't pay the rent. Good for these guys in seizing an obvious opportunity to flourish when done the correctly. Ann Arbor can and does support live music: The Blind Pig and The Ark just to name a few who bring in talent worth coming out to see. Woodruff's in Ypsi seems to be doing well, hosting live music just about every night. Congrats and I for one am looking forward to the new venue and another option to see some shows.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:23 p.m.

I thought the Dream Cafe, the Necto, and assorted other dance clubs existed downtown? It is a shame Ann Arbor cannot support live music. The jazz clubs are gone, rock music is non existent, and the Blind Pig is resorting to more and more DJs. This is probably more a cultural shift than anything though and not unique to Ann Arbor. Why watch a band play music when I can listen to a DJ play my favorite song on his laptop?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

Gotta make money...


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

I think many folks (myself included) don't include the Necto in the &quot;downtown&quot; collection of clubs. It's part of campus. There is dancing at the Millenium/Cavern Club, but I've not been there in a few years...maybe these new owners are trying to cater to a different audience than frequents Millenium/Cavern.