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Little Five Points’ Star Bar reopening soon under team of Atlanta dive bar veterans

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After going dark at the end of 2019, Star Community Bar is close to reopening under new management in Atlanta’s Little Five Points. Christopher Jackson, Luke Lewis, Dan Meade and Bruce McLeod have taken over the Star Bar business and signed a lease for the space at 437 Moreland […]

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After going dark at the end of 2019, Star Community Bar is close to reopening under new management in Atlanta's Little Five Points.

Christopher Jackson, Luke Lewis, Dan Meade and Bruce McLeod have taken over the Star Bar business and signed a lease for the space at 437 Moreland Ave. NE in early January. The owners have secured a temporary alcohol license from the city of Atlanta and are waiting on a temporary state license. They hope to reopen "sometime in the next week or two," Lewis told Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The ownership group brings extensive industry experience. Jackson has been a longtime bartender at The Highlander in Midtown, and Meade's bartending resume includes time at Trackside Tavern and The Comet Pub & Lanes in Decatur. Lewis has previous bartending experience and has worked in the live production business for 21 years.

The group is not making many changes at Star Bar. Since signing the lease, ownership has been working to clean up the space and bring it up to current building codes. The interior has received a fresh coat of paint and new tile on the ceiling and floor. After operating for years with mismatched paint on the walls, Star Bar is returning to its original red-and-black color scheme that was in place when it opened in the former Citizens & Southern National Bank building in 1991. The neon signage on the roof should be repaired by the time the doors open.

"We have no intention to change what the Star Bar was," Lewis told the Chronicle. "We only want to make the Star Bar better. We’re spent the last few months cleaning 30 years’ worth of grime and dirt and dust, cigarette smoke, nicotine, literally just cleaning the place up, replacing the ceiling tiles, fresh coat of paint, just giving it a better look."

The owners have not yet finalized plans for food service, but that is something they want intend to add. The space includes a small kitchen, so Star Bar could serve its own menu. Partnering with another restaurant in Little Five Points also is a possibility. Adding a dining option will give the bar a more complete business model, but lovers of the dive do not have to worry about anything being too fancy.

"There’s not going to be any white table cloths at the Star Bar anytime soon," Lewis said.

Little Vinyl Lounge, which resides in a small room downstairs from the main bar, will eventually reopen as well. The partners are looking into acquiring the necessary amusement license to add pinball machines or video games and offer patrons a more intimate space to mingle. The lounge's reopening will come sometime after Star Bar itself resumes operations.

Most of the previous employees were invited to return, but some have moved on since the bar closed at the end of service New Year's Eve. Lewis said patrons will see "some of the same friendly faces you’ve known and loved for years, as well as some new additions from across town." Star Bar will resume its diverse array of live bookings, including amateur stand-up comedy with Rotknee. New bookings to further diversify the bar's entertainment may be pursued as well.

Since Star Bar was last open to the public, the city of Atlanta has banned smoking in bars and restaurants. While a thick cloud of smoke was a Star Bar staple, the new owners are looking forward to operating a smoke-free business. For patrons who need to light up, there is a large smoking patio outside Little Vinyl Lounge.

"When you’ve got 40 people in there all chain-smoking at the same time, it’s a little stagnant," Lewis said. "It was a blue haze in there. It was rough for a lot of people. ... I think [the change] will be good for the bar as a whole. I think it will bring a lot of patrons in that probably haven’t been able or haven’t wanted to come to the Star Bar because of the smoking."

The transition from previous proprietor Kahle Davis has been messy. Davis, who took over Star Bar in 2013, announced in a since-deleted post on the bar's Facebook page that he was being evicted on short notice by the building's owner, Point Center Partners. That turned out to be false. Anna Foote, previous chair of the Little Five Points Community Improvement District, told Atlanta Business Chronicle on Jan. 3 that Davis and Point Center managing partner Scott Pendergrast had an understanding for months that new operators were needed. Foote explained that Pendergrast had previously lowered Davis' rent with the expectation that it would eventually return to market rate.

The new ownership group paid for Star Bar's 2019 liquor license and last year invested in refurbishments for the main bar and men's restroom. Pendergrast approached the group in mid-2019 about taking over the business. He told the Chronicle on Jan. 10 that he was close to an agreement with the group.

Now that the new owners are close to reopening, they are ready for Star Bar to return to business as usual.

"I think all the people that have known and loved the Star Bar over the years will not be upset with anything that has transpired or changed or anything we’ve done to it," Lewis said. "We’ve just tried to take what is a great Atlanta institution for almost 30 years and make it even greater than it ever was."