An unexpected turn of events has put the keys for Cause Spirits and Soundbar back into the hands of the management of the Lyn-Lake music venue and restaurant. The beloved neighborhood spot closed abruptly last month with little explanation, turning its five-year anniversary shows into a weekend-long farewell party. But now, just a month later, Cause’s owner Mike Riehle and general manager Mike McDermott are swinging back into action and say they hope to reopen the bar by September 1.
“We weren’t ready to be done with our space yet,” says Riehle, addressing reports that a new sports bar owned by Mac’s Industrial Sports Bar was slated to move into the space and open next month. Riehle explained that he was only five years into a 15-year lease with his building’s landlord, and that although attempts were made to push his venue out (presumably in favor of a higher-paying tenant that would suit the increasingly gentrified intersection), he decided to push back and insist that they be allowed to carry out the terms of their lease.
“We ended up in a dispute that I’m not at liberty to talk more about,” he explains hesitantly, seated in one of the booths in the bar at Cause surrounded by overturned chairs and a few scattered flyers. “The desire was to take [the space] back and make something more off of it. But we had the right to the lease as long as we made good on our end of it, so we made sure that we did, and that it will stay that way going forward.”
Riehle says the dispute over the lease started in May and continued through the venue’s closing on July 12, when musicians and regulars from the community flooded the bar to pay their respects. “It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time,” he remembers, reflecting back on the closing party. “That night gave me the will to fight. It really did.”
“Since then there was a lot of soul searching,” he continues. “Talk of, ‘Is there support out there? Would our team come back? Financially, can we do it?’ There were a few financial hurdles to get through, and the first one’s been done, the largest one. But right now, to continue, to get back open, we’re really hoping that there will be either community support or someone to come on as a partner and maybe do something drastically different with our kitchen, or maybe add a partnership with someone that’s already established in music, and be co-branded or something like that. We want to make sure the business side of the support is stronger than ever before, just so we don’t get in that position again where we could possibly be forced to close.”
In the past few days a hashtag #FightForYourRight has emerged on Cause’s Twitter account, with the same message taped to the venue’s door. Riehle says he plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of restocking the bar and restaurant and reopening the space—a campaign that could go live as soon as tomorrow—in addition to the work he’s doing to seek out potential partners and investors.
Now that Cause has regained access to their space—which, until this week, they hadn’t set foot in since being ushered out the door at 4 a.m. on July 13—Riehle and general manager Michael McDermott are moving fast to clean up the space, make some repairs, upgrade the sound system, re-hire a staff, and prepare for a reopening.
“Across the board, we’re just going to clean up a bit,” McDermott says. “We want it to stay fresh and new and be inviting for everybody. We’ve always had that clientele, where everybody feels welcome, everyone wants to be here.”
“When we first opened in 2009, we were almost a little too clean, and people didn’t know what to make of us,” Riehle adds. “They didn’t know who we were here for. And I think once it got a little more beat-up and lived in, then people got more comfortable. And then it just kind of snowballed. I always equate it to a similar vibe to what the Uptown Bar had—but with nicer bathrooms.”
Ironically, the closing of the club came at a time when Cause’s business was going gangbusters. “It was crazy timing to close the doors,” Riehle says. “We were having the best year we’d ever had, up 10% from the year before. Having the chance to reopen right now is a gift. To have it and have people come forward with support that want to help us reopen, I’m just going to cherish it like a gift you can’t imagine. I’m very thankful.”
And what if the money from crowdfunding or potential investors fails to come through?
“I think we will reopen no matter what,” Riehle insists. “We’ll get there. One way or another, whether it looks beautiful or not, we will be open and we will have live music here again. I’m 100% sure of that.”