Gentle Fritz and JJ Grueter

Gentle Fritz and JJ Grueter have braved the COVID economy to create a new venue: The 555 and Fritzie’s Speakeasy.

In March of 2020, it was clear that COVID-19 was here to stay for a while. Restaurants, venues and bars were all told they needed to close down for a period of time to slow the spread of the virus. When places were able to open again a few months later, some did, some just didn’t reopen at all, and some decided to use it as an opportunity to create something new.

The Zodiac and the Triple Nickel Tavern were two very well known places to see regional touring bands and killer local bands, and grab a quick drink after work. When bars were closing down, they both decided to give it some time, get out of the leases they were in and open a new place together that combines the best elements of both  venues for something new.

“We both had some landlord issues and licenses/leases that were up. There were lots of signs saying ‘Why renew this now?’” says former Zodiac co-owner Gentle Fritz. Six weeks into all bars being shut down, both venues closed up shop, and put everything in storage to wait for another opportunity to arise. “Then, the chance came for us to open something with a kitchen that we could do together and pull from both of our resources in a better building,” says Gentle.

The new space is located at 103 S. Wahsatch Ave., just up the street from where the Zodiac was, and right across the street from where the Triple Nickel was located. This new space will actually be two floors! The upstairs, called The 555, will have a great bar/restaurant atmosphere, with a full kitchen that will be run by Chuck and Mary Ann Thomas of Munchies Food Truck. Make your way downstairs to Fritzie’s Speakeasy for a darker, more vaudevillian vibe. Both rooms have great stages and will host live shows when it becomes safe to do so.

Combining the two spaces makes perfect sense. “Even though they were different things most of the time, we had 75 percent of the same people crossover,” explains Triple Nickel owner JJ Grueter

“We’ve both had a rich history of doing this, and doing it for the right reasons, but now our combined forces can streamline all of our skills to benefit us and our community the best,” adds Gentle. “Visually I think it will be a beautiful place for people to visit. People will be very comfortable here, both upstairs and downstairs.” She continues, “we can still experiment and still support strange and unusual things but still have something comfortable for people who aren’t strange and unusual.” 

Smaller spaces like this are so important and have become a home for many people. “In the underground and alternative scenes, it can be a very close-knit family,” says JJ. “Within our one scene, there’s multiple other genres and scenes. Even though they are different, it’s all under the same umbrella of a community that we all take part in.”

“It’s satisfying to be able to support that and contribute to it,” he says.

Gentle has ambitious goals of providing a new space for arts and community, and bringing back interactions with people. “We’re hoping to raise the bar, and still provide what we did for the local arts and community music scenes we were involved in, but also be a better, bigger place where people want to come and drink and eat and get the best of both worlds,“ she says.

JJ has a simpler goal in mind, “What I really want is a safe, awesome place without Randy,” he laughs, referring to his longtime friend, bandmate and Triple Nickel bar staple, Randy Schumacher.

Gentle and JJ will be testing the waters slowly with friends and family. “We plan on a soft opening next week, to get our bearings by serving our friends, families and people that have always supported the Zodiac and the Nickel,” explains Gentle. “After that, we will start planning for something more grandiose.”

The bar will be opening in full compliance with CDC health regulations. “We’re going to do what we’re supposed to for everyone to be safe,” explains Gentle. They will be opening at 25 percent capacity, masks required, spaced-out seating, and sanitizer stations, so you can all enjoy safely.

Some venues and bars opened up after the first shutdown, and are now coming back after a second shutdown in late November. The Black Sheep will be reopening on Feb. 4 for bar service. Thursdays through Sundays from 6  to 10 p.m., you’ll be able to go grab some drinks and enjoy their many theme nights at 25 percent capacity. On Feb. 6, they will be hosting a livestream event for local nonprofit, HOME’s Go With the Flow event. Tejon Street Corner Thieves, Cheap Perfume and Saustro all recorded sets last month, and they’ll be streamed at the venue and online. If you want to go to the event, you can pay a $6 cover, or donate feminine hygiene products at the door. All monetary donations will go to One Nation Walking Together. You can enjoy the show from a screen at the venue, or from the safety of your own home online. Go to the event page for more info