With a lineage in the local bar and music scenes that can be traced back to some of the city’s most influential bands, clubs and cocktail establishments, longtime friends Jon Weiner and Stuart MacKenzie are channeling their passion for loud music and good booze into a new endeavor: the tongue-in-cheekly named Northside Yacht Club.
“The idea came from a picture we found in a book about Northside, where the Mill Creek had flooded and the bar’s completely underwater,” MacKenzie says.
“It’s less Polos and boat shoes and more like a fun Cincinnati, straight-local thing,” Weiner adds. “We’re going to do a lot of piping and we’ll have submarine lights — nothing like Red Lobster-cheesy. Everything will be really subtle.”
The duo’s music and bar experience goes way back, as do the bar’s recent iterations.
Weiner is the former general manager of Japp’s, current bassist for The Dopamines and a onetime bartender at the original Southgate House; MacKenzie is another longtime Wellmann’s Brander and frontman of DAAP Girls and the now-defunct Lions Rampant. And both Weiner and MacKenzie bartended at their new space on Spring Grove Avenue back when it was Mayday — MacKenzie even helped transition it from its former stint as the popular dive the Gypsy Hut.
But under their new ownership, the bar is getting an overhaul — DIY style. With the help of friends, family and bandmates, Weiner and MacKenzie have completely demoed the front room and kitchen, removing both the front and back bars. Other friends have pitched in to build the space back up, offering design and architectural schematics, and the project’s contractor is Weiner’s childhood best friend. They’re in the process of installing new floors, a new ceiling, new seating, a new draft system and a new, longer bar, with a projected opening date of mid-June.
“We’re taking our favorite aspects from patio bar life, from Japp’s, from nightclubs that we’ve seen, and we’re just trying to take our favorite parts and what match our personality,” MacKenzie says.
Along with the interior remodel, they plan on revamping the back patio, adding a bar you can access from outside to help with crowd flow. In terms of alcohol, the duo’s behind-the-bar experience covers a wide range of modern imbibing trends — from a no-frills Rock & Roll Jameson-with-a-PBR-back to elaborate pre-Prohibition mixology — and the drink menu at the Yacht Club will reflect that. The goal is to create a strong beer program with 10 to 12 tap drafts and a large selection of craft bottles, along with a nice wine list. (They’re also partnering with a local brewery but can’t release information on that yet.)
And there’s not going to be any shortage of liquor. Their curated selection of bourbon will draw on their knowledge of reasonably priced, quality bottles, like Old Granddad and Heaven Hill. For cocktails, they’ll be using fresh juices and simple syrup.
“We’re definitely going to bring our cocktail knowledge from Japp’s,” Weiner says. “With the nautical theme, I really want to do a rum menu. But it’s not going to be a classic cocktail bar. I want really fun drinks — fun drinks that will get you a buzz and people will talk about. Not anything super serious. We’re not going to have anyone with a twisted mustache or anything.”
Along with tackling the opening of the bar side of the business, MacKenzie and Weiner were also adamant about opening a quality kitchen at the same time — for their patrons and for the club’s touring bands. As they both know from stints on the road, getting decent, healthy food before a show can be difficult. That’s why they’re bringing in a chef: Ryan Whitcomb, who joins them from Dilly Bistro, Bar & Bottle Shop in Mariemont.
“He’s passionate. I’m sure he’s taking a pay cut to work with us,” MacKenzie says. “But the menu gets to be his. And we’re not trying to do a bunch of things well — we’re trying to do one thing really, really well, make ourselves known for it, and we can expand the menu based on that.”
With menu advice from Elias Leisring of Eli’s BBQ and a kitchen layout designed by Jose Salazar, at this stage the plan is to focus on smoked chicken wings with homemade sauces. They’re also planning a smoked vegetarian option, like seitan or tofu, possibly Cincinnati chili, a healthy salad and “real Montreal poutine.” Some ingredients will be sourced from MacKenzie’s uncle’s farm in New Richmond.
As for the musicians they’ll be feeding, Peyton Copes from local Trash Pop trio Tweens will do all the music booking, mixing local and national acts. Chicago Rock band Twin Peaks is already on the schedule for the end of June and Planes Mistaken for Stars will play the Yacht Club in July.
“It’s definitely going to be quality over quantity,” Weiner says, emphasizing that they want to bring in everything from Punk and Rock to Bluegrass and Hip Hop, even dance parties.
“As far as other music venues go, we’ll be honored if we’re lumped in with clubs like MOTR, who we look up to and respect. And our friends up at The Comet,” he continues.
Shows will vary in price — some will be free, some will have a cover — but either way, patrons will always be able to come into the bar, have a drink, have some food and hang out on the patio. If there’s audio bleed-over, consider it a bonus.
And like a real Rock & Roll club, expect to see other local musicians behind the bar, not just booking the shows.
“Probably the number one thing we’re taking from Wellmann’s Brands is that staffing is all about personality,” MacKenzie says. “We just really want people that are passionate about service. Musicians and artists love to stay out late. They can drink a little bit. They’re people-pleasers, and that’s what you want.”
With the explosion of bars and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine — and the resulting national press and accolades — MacKenzie and Weiner expect more people to be visiting Cincinnati and more Cincinnatians to be leaving the suburbs to visit OTR and surrounding neighborhoods, including Northside.
“We just want it to be like if you come to Cincinnati, ‘Oh. You’ve got to stop at the Northside Yacht Club,’ ” MacKenzie says. He wants to be a triple-threat: a destination location for great food, great music and great people.
“It’s going to be a yacht club that’s completely landlocked in Northside,” he says. “The bathroom’s going to be nice; the floor’s going to be nice; the kitchen is going to be run by a guy with a giant Bill Murray tattoo on his forearm. It’s going to be run by a bunch of characters.”
“We want it to be our little happy perfect place,” Weiner says.
“A little happy place full of alcohol,” MacKenzie adds.