Look Past Live Music for Your Bar’s Entertainment

Beyond trivia nights and live music, bars are opening up their calendar to new entertainment options. Think tableside magic, yoga classes, stand-up comedy, and art markets.

These activities invite a new demographic and provide opportunities to partner with other business owners.

One of those creative events is silent disco, in which participants don headphones and jam to up to three DJs and/or playlists of their choice. After Amber Soletti of Intellectual Blonde Branding & Events attended a silent-disco event at The Beer Garden in Bohemian Hall in Queens, New York, she literally pulsed with an idea: Why not bring this to bars and venues in Texas? Now she provides that service to bars on behalf of Quiet Events.

“When your entertainment consists of only one DJ, you may have people that aren't a fan of the music and want to leave,” says Soletti. “Waitstaff and patrons seem to like it because they don't have to yell over blaring music. People can still come in and eat, drink, watch the game, etc. If they want to partake in the silent disco, they can just pay for the headphones.”

Fashion shows, stand-up comedy, and drag bingo have been the perfect fit for FlyteCo Tower’s sprawling 20,000-square-foot space in Denver that includes a brewery, restaurant, and coffee bar. As Co-Owner Morgan O’Sullivan puts it, this “cross pollinates our audiences. We give the community an outlet for it. We do what we do well—the food and beverage—and support and promote other small businesses. We want the community to use the space as their own.”

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“We do not charge the vendors a fee,” says O’Sullivan, although comedians are paid and often use the space—more intimate than an arena or concert hall—to workshop jokes before rolling them out on tour.

Soon, a spring and summer workout series with local yoga instructors will debut on the patio, with half-off one’s first drink for all attendees. The bar recently hosted its first fashion show—highlighting spring and summer apparel sold at local boutiques—and plans to host more. “We approached the majority of [boutiques] independently,” says O’Sullivan. For most of their events, “There’s not a lot of outreach on our side. [Vendors] are telling each other what they’re doing.”

That’s also been General Manager Dustyn Zenner’s experience at Holman Draft Hall in Houston. If you provide an opportunity for exposure, it creates a buzz among that niche community. When initially establishing his bar’s first artists’ fair, which includes live-sketching of guests for a fee, he visited local craft and art markets to “cherry pick” vendors. He also reached out to artists groups through Facebook. “Once artists promoted [the fair], it got a lot of organic traction,” he says. The artists’ fair is hosted on the first Friday evening of each month, showcasing art for sale by 30 artists and also featuring cocktails and live music.

“We’ve got artists from every walk of life and everyone brings out their friends,” says Zenner, who does not charge artists to participate. “The only thing I ask from them is to help market the event.”

What inspires off-beat activities is a desire to cater to multiple demographics. And the mission of Cactus Club, a live-music venue and bar in Milwaukee, is fostering “inter-generational community building,” says Owner Kelsey Kaufmann. Sliding-scale fees make events accessible to everyone. A recent seed swap attracted toddlers and those in their 80s. Soon, the bar will host a panel discussion on grant-writing for artists. “That’s part of a bigger vision in how we retain younger, creative folks. That’s what a lot of people are thirsty for and have a hard time finding,” says Kaufmann.

Cactus Club also hosts a monthly non-fiction book club, with selections designed to foster discussion about community issues. They also host a makers’ market that launched during the COVID-19 pandemic where artists pay between $15 and $30 to set up outside the bar, which Cactus Club promotes widely. Kaufmann continues to be surprised about which events are successes, like a recent line-dancing lesson. “It was really neat to see people embrace this clumsy, old-time tradition,” Kaufmann says. “That was invigorating and inspiring to see.”

By plastering the neighborhood with fliers, this has drawn in people new to the area and wanting to be involved in the community and make friends.

Viewing vendors as true partners makes all the difference. For example, Suzanne, who goes by Suzanne the Magician, performs tableside magic at four restaurants in the Twin Cities: Shakopee House, Birch’s on the Lake, Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge, and Rockwood’s. She began doing this in 1985 and has performed at Birch’s on the Lake for 15 years. “The servers know the value of having me come to their section,” she says. “Ten minutes is a long time if you’re waiting for your food to come out. I can make that ten minutes feel like a minute. It also brings life [into the restaurant]. You’ve got people laughing.”

“It’s a real win-win because I get to use the restaurant as a marketing tool and the restaurant gets to use me to help the restaurant run smoothly,” she says.


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