Lo-Fi Bar—A Neon Beacon on a Dark Winter’s Night

Andy Garris admits it with an eager smile: “I missed the music!” And that’s why you’ll find him back in the middle of the action, pouring drinks during live music programming hosted inside Lo-Fi, Ann Arbor’s newest destination for culture, cocktails, and nighttime entertainment.

It’s been seven years since many of the avid local music scene followers could enjoy a concert whilst also being handed a beer by the bearded and ebullient Ann Arbor resident. During the last five years, Garris has been working with Micah Bartelme (President of BarStar Group) via the Nightcap Cocktail Bar and Rush Nightclub. Now they’re partners in the launch of Lo-Fi, a place that provides dazzling ambiance along with a diversity of featured artists and events.

Garris ran two of Ypsi’s most beloved music venues; both were essentially the place-to-be in their heydays, (The Elbow Room, 2006-2009 and Woodruffs, 2010-2012.) “I spent 17 years in dive bars, music venues, or clubs,” said Garris. “But the energy surrounding (Elbow Room/Woodruffs) was all just amazing, and I’ve missed it like crazy!”

A nod to live music

Garris give a nod to the continued energy devoted towards live music at local venues like The Blind Pig and the Raven’s Club, but he worries that the scales have tipped in favor of restaurants (over live music), when it comes to weekend downtown adventurism options. “(T)he real problem we ran into in Ypsi,” said Garris, “was trying to book four-band bills four nights a week. Whereas, (at Lo-Fi), maybe it’s one band doing two 1-hour sets, or just one opener and then a featured band. We also want to have DJs, karaoke, comedy, and hopefully some events with the library.”

“We could have book signings, or pop-up art shows, it’s a multifaceted space for just really cool art and cultural events,” said Bartelme. “Obviously, our big focus is music. But we like having the ability to utilize this nice space for different things that you might not find elsewhere, downtown. But I want to see people in here multiple times a week because they know it won’t be the same thing every week. That can be fatiguing, not only for attendees, but also for staff as well. It can get stale. We don’t want to be stale; we want to be fresh, with stuff people don’t have access to in other spaces.”

A space to be proud of

The space holds about 60 people. Originally a paint-and-pour, before being transformed into Lo-Fi, “We took it down to the raw guts,” said Garris, of the renovations. The booths and barstools were built offsite and then installed. The sleek blue/purple neon aesthetic is not overwhelming, although that cosmic flare is reliably eye-catching on a social media feed. Artist Jeremy Wheeler designed the 7ft-long neon dragon that hovers behind the bar. “We wanted to build something we were into, something we were proud of,” said Bartelme. “We wanted an underground-spaceship-lookin’ bar! So we built one!”

But beyond the neon glow and Garris’ return to a prominent place in the live local music scene, Bartelme credits the staff, for getting Lo-Fi off the ground. “They’re giving us their best, so we want to give them our best. We’re putting this together and creating an environment where people are comfortable and where artists want to play. We want a positive and inclusive environment for everyone.”

“I just want to show that we can do it here,” said Garris, of Lo-Fi’s ongoing live entertainment. “So that then we can do another one, maybe. Maybe even bigger.” For now, though, a smaller space, means more intimate experiences with your local artists; there’s not a bad seat in the house. Said Garris: “…you’re gonna wanna be down here!”

Keeping things open and flexible

In the months ahead, Garris expects shows will start a little earlier than some other local clubs. But the only thing they’re certain of is that they’ll keep things open and flexible. “We certainly want to make sure bands are taken care of and feel like they are part of the venue’s success,” said Bartelme. “We anticipate a sliding scale depending on the act, but an 80/20 split (of admission) was something we came up with that would cover our costs and also incentivize the bands to be active partners in promoting their shows and bringing people in. We’re certainly flexible and will be testing out the best way forward, but we think it’s a nice model.”

“As a small venue and tiny team, we only have so much marketing and promotional bandwidth,” said Bartelme. But as February rolls into March, they’re looking to pick up steam. Bartelme added: “We’re excited to bring the talent into a scenario where we all have a vested interest in creating the best environment and show possible.”

Also on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/lofi_a2/

(734) 369-6070 | 220 S Main St, Lower Level, Ann Arbor

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Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

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