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Raising the bar

Globe and Mail Update

It was a crazy thing to do. David Battersby knew it as soon as he signed the 10-year lease. But he was just so sick of the leather-and-denim clubs that line Vancouver's Davie Street, the centre of the city's gay community. Where were the upscale cocktail bars he wanted to hang out at?

Battersby had never run a bar before, but as a designer, he was sure he and his three partners could transform the bargain bookstore they'd leased into Davie's new "it" spot. Unfortunately, as Battersby would soon find out, opening a bar is 80% paperwork and only 20% design.

What it cost

Equipment: $340,000 (they saved $150,000 by doing design and construction work themselves)

AV equipment: $40,000 (projector, control centre, DJ booth)

Initial inventory: $15,000 (beer, 170 bottles of wine, 70 bottles of liquor)

Other costs: $120,000 (rent, permits, legal fees)

Total start-up costs: $515,000

Rent: $8,000 (1,190 square feet)

Staff: $12,000 (two managers, eight part-time bartenders/doormen)

Liquor: $20,000 to $200,000

DJs: $1,000

Admin costs: $1,500 (cash register rental, merchant services, insurance)

Total monthly expenses: $42,500

Number of $8.50 margaritas 1181 needs to sell a night to break even: 167

To even apply for a liquor licence, the group had to show a "vested interest" in the property they had their eye on. That meant paying rent of $8,000 a month on an empty building. And they needed informal approval for a liquor licence—a process that includes public notification, a community presentation and a council vote—before they could secure the municipal and provincial permits to renovate the building. "We could have been turned down at any stage, and the entire thing would have fallen apart," says Battersby, who headed the reno with his design partner, Heather Howat. "When we realized how complicated it was, we knew why no one had done it sooner."

In May, 13 months and $84,000 in rent later, 1181 (as in 1181 Davie St.) opened its doors. Battersby and his partners won't get rich off the bar because its occupancy permit is for just 60 people. But well-heeled customers are lining up to sip $8.50 cocktails at 1181's long, skinny bar. "It's been so busy, it's actually a little horrifying," says Battersby. "I mean good horrifying, of course."

Pitfalls: Make sure the aesthetic you create for your bar matches the mood of the neighbourhood. It may look great, says Battersby, but if it doesn't speak to the community, it'll be empty.

Why do it: "Opening a bar is about community, not just about giving people a place to get drunk," says Battersby. "It's gratifying to see people respond positively to something they see as special and particularly their own."

Where the money is: Draft beer—it costs $2 a pint, and you can sell it for $5.50. Plus, it's far easier to store and serve than wine and spirits.

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