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Wednesday, December 19,2012

Restaurant resurrections

Two local watering holes change names, concepts to attract new patrons

by ALLAN I. ROSS
Next week, J’s Pub opens at 208 S. Washington Square in downtown Lansing. If you’re wondering where in the world they found room to fit another bar on the 200 block, well, they didn’t — J’s Pub is taking over the slot previously occupied by Brannigan Brothers.

“It looked like a beat-up bowling alley when I started construction,” said manager Mike Christensen, who says he single-handedly performed the $70,000 worth of remodeling. “It was a ton of work, but I couldn’t be more proud of what it looks like now.”  

Walking through J’s Pub, you’d have no idea this place used to be a raucous dive bar. There are new barstools and booths, a color-changing LED track light system, soundproofing on the walls resembling contemporary art and an elevated VIP seating area. You even get that new bar smell — the lacquer on the hardwood floor, the faux leather seats, the fresh paint on the walls. Christensen says everything was replaced, including the floor, which was “stripped down to the beams."

In December 2010, building owner Douglas Nylander, as part of the entity F&M Leasing, took over Brannigan Brothers in a management agreement from the bar’s owner, Michael Brogan, who opened the bar in 2002. That bar, which had developed a rowdy reputation, closed in August, eight months after a New Year’s Eve incident last year in which a patron was beaten to death nearby. (Donald Suttle Jr., a bouncer at the bar, was recently convicted of 2nd degree murder in the case and awaits sentencing, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office said; Austin Smith, the bars former head bouncer, awaits trial.) Nylander wouldn’t comment on the case, but confirmed that the change of name and atmosphere came from his dissatisfaction with Brannigan’s clientele. 

“Everyone wants to see downtown thriving,” Nylander said, adding that he hopes J’s Pub will attract an upscale crowd. “(Brannigan’s) went downhill quickly — I’m just trying to get back to how it was.” 

Meanwhile, across town the Best Steak House, 3020 E. Kalamazoo St. in East Lansing, is also getting a major makeover, complete with a new name: the Steak House Philly Bar and Grill. 

 “We got a liquor license last year, so the idea was to turn this into a neighborhood pub,” said owner/operator Dimos Tassopoulos. “Basically, we’re just bringing the business into this millennium.” 

 Updates include free WiFi access, a jukebox and a fleet of high-definition TVs. Tassopoulos says he hopes to have the work finished in time for a grand reopening at end of January. He wouldn’t give exact numbers, but confirmed it was “a six-figure renovation.” He said the 3,000-square-foot building will actually lose a little seating, bringing the capacity down to a comfy crowd of about 100. But fans of Best Steak House don’t need to worry about their favorite items going anywhere. 

 “We’re keeping most of what’s already working,” Tassopoulos said. “then introducing four or five new sandwiches, some Greek specialties and a nice selection of craft beers.”

The business has been family-owned since 1967, but no major changes have been made since it moved to the Kalamazoo Street location in 1972.

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