Stars, friends align to make Zodiac a success

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Gentle Fritz, left, and Christina Stone opened Zodiac Venue nearly two years ago, with critics predicting their demise. But Zodiac is going strong with full-house weekends and themed nights that no other venue offers.

Zodiac Venue

Address: 230 Pueblo Ave.

Owners: Gentle Fritz and Christina Stone

Employees: 8

Website: zodiacvenue.com

Gentle Fritz and Christina Stone repeatedly heard others say their business, the Zodiac Venue, would fail.

Naysayers were quick to point out that others tried to make a go of a bar in that off-the-beaten-path building — where Pueblo Avenue diagonally intersects with Wahsatch Avenue and Cimarron Street, southeast of downtown.

The other bars all crashed and burned, the critics said. The 2,800-square-foot space had housed bars called Prime Time, Cloud Nine and the Rocket Room in recent years.

But the two long-time friends had a plan.

Fritz had been in the bartending business for years. She watched from the sidelines, saw the missteps of bar owners and tucked away her ideas, waiting for the right opportunity. Stone owned her own business, a tattoo shop, and knew a solid business plan was essential.

In February, the Zodiac Venue business partners will celebrate two years in business. Not a single thing about it has been easy. But it sure has been fun.

“I think we might have surprised a few people,” said Fritz, 35.

Three years ago Fritz and Stone wrote out their business plan for a bar. They envisioned a place where local artists would show off their talents. They wanted a place to be inviting of all music genres and they would say “yes” to any idea that seemed crazy.

At the time, the bar was the Rocket Room, which had gone through a turbulent run. That corner had been on the radar of the law, as druggies and thugs frequented the area.

Fritz and Stone were hoping to buy the bar business from the Rocket Room’s owners. They were strung along for a year. Then, like a gift, the owners abandoned their lease on the property.

The building’s owner offered the place to Fritz and Stone.

“The way it worked out is phenomenal,” said Stone, 37.

As soon as they had signed the lease, Stone was in the bar ripping out old flooring. They hired a general contractor and enlisted friends, husband and boyfriend for help with the wood floors, moving the stage, setting up the sound system, opening up the dance floor and refinishing the bar top.

They overhauled the Rocket Room into the Zodiac Venue in less than 60 days. The only remaining remnant from the former Rocket Room is the leopard-print carpet where the stage used to be.

They paid off the previous business owners’ debt to the tune of thousands. And then they opened for business.

The Zodiac Venue — a name inspired in part by the movie Bell, Book and Candle in which Jimmy Stewart’s character visits a bar named the Zodiac — is a place where anything can happen. Musicians play. Comedians tell jokes. Fire dancers dance. The venue is so spruced up that women have had their baby showers there.

“We have amazing guests that come here,” Fritz said.

Fritz and Stone don’t view the Zodiac, because it’s so unique, as competing against other bars. The calendar is jam-packed with themed nights like nerd appreciation and pajama party-pillow fight night. One night, punk bands will blast the room; a night later, others are lower key with indie folk rock taking center stage.

Zodiac has been known to be flush with burlesque performers, and the bar has closed its doors for nude body artists to work.

“No one is doing what we are doing,” Fritz said.

Most of the Zodiac’s advertising is done on Facebook, Yelp and Twitter. But Fritz subscribes to the business philosophy of getting out into the community for some good, old-fashioned face time. She supports local small businesses and believes they will support her too.

Andrea Stone, sister-in-law to Christina, sees the Zodiac as a place to nurture local artists. She hosts “Open Mic Night” on Mondays, which sometimes attracts as many as 30 local artists. Zodiac has a drum kit, piano, three mics and high-quality sound system, which makes for a good show, Andrea said.

Andrea, a musician and songwriter, said there are few places in the city where artists can test their mettle. The just-starting-out singers and songwriters need to find their voice, she said. They need feedback and a place to network.

“I thought, ‘We can do this, we can build them up and help them,’” she said.

Open Mic Night has seen magicians, poets and authors reading passages from their yet-to-be-published books. Andrea is like a proud parent who has watched contributors improve, hook up with other artists to form new bands and get gigs around town.

“It’s very important to me,” she said. “I’ll see something on stage that moves me, and I’ll cry about it.”

Zodiac Venue does not appear to be hindered by its location, a few blocks removed from Tejon Street. The bar is less likely to get foot traffic. But that is a good thing, Andrea said.

“You do have to look for us,” she said. “You don’t just end up here because you are wasted.”

Recently, a new restaurant, Slice Pizzeria, moved into the building. Fritz and Stone are hopeful the new pizza joint will drive business to them and vise versa.

“They opened six months ago; I think they are on their way,” Fritz said.

The past 18 months have gone by fast for Fritz and Stone, who have hardly had time to sit back and think about how much they’ve accomplished. Call it survival mode, Fritz said. They’ve got families and kids to feed, she said.

“Our one-year anniversary was a huge milestone for us,” Stone said.

The Zodiac Venue has a healthy revenue and Fritz and Stone are reinvesting their profits, they said. Their business plan mission statement says something like “host joyous gatherings.”

“Our plan is absolutely happening,” Fritz said.

Naysayers be damned.