Posted // 2012-10-18 -
This Saturday will mark a milestone birthday in the bar scene as The Red Door celebrates its10th Anniversary! The dimly lit martini bar has been going strong for a solid decade along 200 South, giving the city a place to go without blaring music or (at the time) smoke-filled halls, and offering a slightly classier setting with a wide selection of specialty drinks for your imbibing pleasure. The bar has become such a mainstay of the downtown atmosphere with multiple awards (some from City Weekly
) and national recognition from The New York Times
Today, wIchat with founder and president of the club Louise Hannig about starting up the bar and their time in downtown SLC, hitting the 10-year mark and a few other topics. (All photos courtesy of The Red Door.)
Gavin: Hey, Louise. First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.
Louise: I grew up in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. At 19, I moved to Hawaii to pursue an undergraduate degree in Psychology at University of Hawaii. I lived in Hawaii for six years and then moved back to California in the San Diego area for about a year before moving to Salt Lake City in 1996 to pursue a master's degree in psychology in the late 90's. I worked as an in- and out-patient psychiatric counselor for a time before opening The Red Door. Recently, I just graduated from Westminster College with a master's in business administration. I have two children, who are 5 and 7.
Gavin: What made you come to Utah for college, and how was it for you making the transition from California?
Louise: I moved to Utah in 1996 specifically to be closer to my brother, who was living in Provo and was terminally ill at the time with brain cancer. I applied to grad school here to be closer to him. I got to spend four great years with him before he passed away. Best decision I ever made. It was tough coming from Hawaii and California. I moved here with 23 pairs of shorts, no socks or close-toed shoes and not an inkling of how the old furnace in my newly rented, small, Avenues apartment worked.
Gavin: What did you think of the local scene at the time and what was happening with the clubs around town?
Louise: When I first moved here, the scene for live music seemed cool for what I thought was a small town. DV8 and the Zephyr hosted some great shows. However, there were no chill, quiet lounges where you could relax and have a drink. Dive bars, huge nightclubs, or cool gay bars -- remember the Sun, anyone? -- seemed to be the only options.
Gavin: What influenced you to start up a bar in SLC, and why focus on martinis?
Louise: I worked for a small securities and real estate firm in early 2000 as a property manager after grad school in psychology. I managed the then-unoccupied Wallace Bennett building on 1st South. My boss asked me to write a business plan for a club for the space. As the idea and the business plan developed .I decided to pursue the venture on my own and sought a different location.
Gavin: How did you come across the location on 200 South, and what made you decide to set up there?
Louise: I looked at many spaces around downtown including some locations on Main Street and up the block on 2nd South. Two things that I was sure of was that I wanted a comfortable warehouse feel and I did not want to go into a space that was previously a bar. Main Street was not an option for me, as I felt that there was not enough traffic to promote visual advertising appeal. The space we are in was a copy and print office with drywall and dropped ceilings. I negotiated with the landlord to gut the space, expose the brick and create the feel that I wanted.
Gavin: How did you go about putting together your staff and making sure you had the best hands in the city to make your drinks?
Louise: Working in the service industry is a challenging career, and especially so when serving alcohol. My philosophy as an employer is to treat my staff with respect and create an environment of equality and family atmosphere. The goal here is twofold: first, that the staff will enjoy their jobs. It is assumed that this job satisfaction will then be passed on to each guest in the form of great customer service. I am well aware that I can not make everyone happy 100 percent of the time, but it is my hope that customer complaints can be handled with respect in timely fashion. This philosophy has afforded me some of the greatest staff. My bartenders have been with The Red Door since 2003 and 2005. My head cocktail server has been with me since the day I unlocked the doors in 2002, and my manager has been with The Red Door since 2003.
Gavin: How much of the menu are original drinks compared to familiar mixes, and how do you go about making specialty drinks that can't be found anywhere else?
Louise: There are a number of drinks that are martini-industry standards such as the sour apple martini, but the rest have been made up by myself and my staff. It really is a process of trial and error. Mostly, we get together and start mixing stuff up. It it sticks, we put it on the menu.
Gavin: Over the years, a lot of the bar scene changed around you and business shifted around a few blocks. How was it watching 200 South and Main Street gradually change and bring in more people to downtown?
Louise: There was a lot of change with the abolition of the private-club law. Ironically, around that time was when the housing market crashed and the economy took a downturn. I saw a lot of new clubs vying for business. After the recession, people were very cautious about how they spent their entertainment dollars, so working and running a business "smarter" was key, I feel, for small businesses in Utah to survive.
Gavin: What kind of a challenge has it been, being both a bar and somewhat a club, competing with music venues and bringing in entertainment that doesn't feel like the rest?
Louise: I do not really compete with music venues. We have a small, unique, live-music night on Saturdays with The Joshua Payne Orchestra. They garner quite a following.
Gavin: The Red Door is coming up on its 10-year anniversary. What are your thoughts on making it an entire decade as a downtown bar?
Louise: We are coming up on our 10-year anniversary and we are planning a big soire
with a 1940s film-noir theme. All of the details can be found on our Facebook page
and on our website. I am truly honored to have been a part of local industry and the economy in downtown SLC and to have watched it change and grow in positive ways.
Gavin: After you hit the anniversary, what are you looking to do down the road with the club? Are you planning to change anything, or stick to what's been working?
Louise: There have been rumors of an expansion ... we'll see.
Gavin: What can we expect from you at The Red Door over the rest of the year?