Tony’s opened Thursday as a reinvented version of itself at 326 N. Tejon St., just a whiskey stone’s throw from 311 N. Tejon St. where the establishment’s vintage neon sign hung for 15 years.
The move not only increased the sports bar’s square-footage from 2,300 to 4,300, but allowed owner Eel Anderson to add some new flourishes and solve longtime problems that plagued the old haunt.
Anderson, who opened the bar with former business partner Tony Leahy in 1999, said space had grown scarce over the years — a driving factor in his decision to move to the former home of Compleat Games and Hobbies.
“There have been nights when it was hard just to walk through the place,” Anderson said. “I have had to turn down parties left and right, because I just didn’t have any room for them.”
The increase in size allows for a boost in maximum occupancy from 88 to around 190, Anderson said, and will facilitate hosting private parties, live entertainment and other events.
“I really haven’t been able to reserve anything without shutting down the whole bar,” he said, adding that turning away such events had become a regular issue.
The space features a longer bar, front and back patios, three pool tables, more TVs, a stage and a larger kitchen that Anderson said will allow for a wider array of menu options.
Anderson said that, aside from the longer bar, the new space will feature roughly the same amount of seating as before — at least until the need for more tables becomes evident.
“We’re just going to lay it out as we go and figure out the method to the madness,” he said.
Another addition to the layout, though seemingly simple, is a more spacious women’s restroom with two stalls. Anderson said the single-stall setup in the first location made for long lines and wait times on busy nights.
Unlike 311 N. Tejon, which Anderson rented from property owner Jerome Goodley since opening, Anderson purchased the 110-year-old building across Tejon for $425,000 in March 2013.
“It’s sad to leave this place, because it is iconic — we’ve been here for 15 years,” he said. “But we had a better opportunity to expand and to own the building across the street.”
He initially set sights to have the new place open last fall, but soon encountered some snags. Contractors and their crews had been active at the site since the transaction, but traction was difficult to gain due to the time-consuming and costly nature of the process, Anderson said.
“There was a lot of politics, and new health codes, and new fire codes and a lot of things that I just didn’t know about … even though I’ve been in this business for 30 years now,” he said.
Some patrons fear the move might alter the cozy feel of the old-school Tony’s vibe, but Anderson said the old building’s aesthetics have made the transition easy.
“We wanted it to feel the same — that’s why we got it down to the brick over there, and have the wood floors,” he said about the exposed red brick that had become essential to the Tony’s environment.
Anderson said that his budget for the buildout was around $300,000 going into the project, but he overshot that because of the delays.
“There are always going to be unexpected costs,” he said. “But we’ve tried to keep it pretty tight.”
He plans to add personnel as the new demand is assessed, but for now he’ll stick with his 17-member staff. Although much is changing at the downtown bar, customers like longtime regular Rich Vincent say that’s what matters most: the people.
“I walked in the door and it was a typical Midwestern bar, and I felt at home,” said Vincent, a weekly Tony’s customer since 2001. “I can’t say enough about Tony’s and the staff and what they’ve done over the years.
“They’re excited about coming over here, and I think all of us patrons are too.”
As for the old location, Goodley said that new lessees have signed a contract to move in July 1. He did not give any details as to the owners or what type of business they plan to open.
Anderson also is in talks with administration of the El Paso Club about concerns related to safety and usage of its parking lot, which runs adjacent to the back of the building. No deal has been struck, but he said that working hand-in-hand with local business folk is gratifying no matter the outcome.
“I always try to make it a win-win situation for everyone.”