Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Lulu's Downstairs grand opens with style in Manitou Springs

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 5:04 PM

click to enlarge Musician, producer and now Lulu's founder and owner, Marc Benning. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Musician, producer and now Lulu's founder and owner, Marc Benning.

Lulu’s Downstairs (107 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs) celebrates its grand opening on Thursday, July 11, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (the hours it plans to be open year-round). The following night, Sasami plays the venue, along with Inaiah Lujan.

The venue already has concerts listed out to October, with more shows surely to be added. But don’t file it in your mind as just a music spot; it’s an earnest bar as well.

Owner Marc Benning — who most recently helped launch The Side Door venue south of downtown as well as co-start Ivywild Music’s program prior to that, and has run Hideaway Studios for the last 25 years and toured as a musician for 15 years — says “I want to have a great bar that even if there’s no show, it’s still a bar people want to go to.”
click to enlarge A revamped stage with new sound dampening in the overhead ceiling, for optimal acoustics. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A revamped stage with new sound dampening in the overhead ceiling, for optimal acoustics.
Benning says he’s seeking more of “events” than trying to pack out his calendar: “I’m opposed to being a place where we put a band in the corner and they play but there’s nobody there to see them, where they’re underpaid and undervalued.”
That said, he envisions some free shows, and he’s strategically walled-off the bar area from the concert area — mind you we’re talking about the former Castaways, most recently Vibes spot — so folks at the bar will be able to socialize without having to scream in each others’ ears.

“I’m focusing on the bar,” he says, “that’s what will keep the lights on.”
click to enlarge Fine spirits are on hand for those seeking a sophisticated cocktail, though there will be well drinks too. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Fine spirits are on hand for those seeking a sophisticated cocktail, though there will be well drinks too.

What that focus looks like, aside from ‘70s lounge inspiration? Firstly, hiring seasoned bartenders to design an original menu. Principal’s Office alumni are well represented; familiar faces like Ashton Longwell (also of the Wild Goose Meeting House, serving as lead bartender here), and Camille Stellar and Brandon Allen, both of Chiba Bar as well. Benning says they’ll create a “nice approachable cocktail bar that’s affordable, with some higher end options.” He clarifies he doesn’t wish for Lulu’s to become a “drinking person’s bar, looking for $2 shots,” and that he’s “not going to serve gut-rot — our well is solid.”

click to enlarge Sexy booths. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Sexy booths.
He envisions drinks averaging $6-$10, featuring “smaller brands and newer companies — Jameson my be our only big-name booze.” And for beers, expect 15 canned offerings at a given time, “just good beers from all over the world — we aren’t focusing on being a Colorado craft brew bar.”
click to enlarge A random, less-typical selection of beers. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A random, less-typical selection of beers.

For eats, since the restaurant space above remains vacant, Benning has planned to serve simple items like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, plus corn dogs and appetizers, with vegan options too, with a blue plate special from 4-6 p.m. at some point soon.
“If you want to have dinner we’ll have options that’ll fill you up,” he promises. “But our motto is: ‘We’re not a restaurant.’”

Here's a few more early looks at Lulu's — named for Benning's daughter — ahead of the opening:
click to enlarge From the opening cocktail menu, the fresh Sunray mixes Four Roses Bourbon with Lustau Vermut Blanco and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, plus OJ. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • From the opening cocktail menu, the fresh Sunray mixes Four Roses Bourbon with Lustau Vermut Blanco and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, plus OJ.

click to enlarge 70s decor everywhere. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • 70s decor everywhere.
click to enlarge A wall of oddities. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A wall of oddities.
click to enlarge When there's no show, Benning hopes the bar will still "keep the lights on." - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • When there's no show, Benning hopes the bar will still "keep the lights on."
click to enlarge Cool hand-painted walls. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Cool hand-painted walls.

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