The Standing Room Only bar has a long history in the community of Oak Grove, dating back to 1976. Many friends just said they were meeting at the “SRO.”
Two friends bought the business in 2012. Scott Mack and Todd Chester wanted to capitalize on the familiar name, so they kept the old Standing Room Only sign showing a ball player, a burger and a mug of beer but adding a second “Mac & Chester’s Standing Room Only” sign with the image of a snarling bulldog.
This restaurant, located at 18919 Lake George Blvd., is now called Boulder Lodge Bar & Grill. The four softball fields and the same staff are still there and some may still call it “SRO,” but the remodeled establishment resembles a north-woods retreat with inclusion of stone, hardwood tables, knotty pine walls, decorative light fixtures, a stone fireplace next to a wallpaper image of stacked logs and, on the wall, the head of a deer that Chester got.
The menu is new with food dishes such as the wild game platter and beer-battered fish. There are new signature drinks, including the Cabin Fever and Boulder Sour.
The transformation and the human drama will be featured on Spike’s television show “Bar Rescue.” It airs this Sunday, March 6, at 8 p.m. and will be the show’s 100th episode. Boulder Lodge Bar & Grill is holding a viewing party starting at 5 p.m.
Chester hung up on “Bar Rescue” the first time they called because he thought it was a prank.
But when they called again and knew they were serious, he spoke with his wife, Elise Chester, who was managing the business, to get her opinion. Both are fans of the show and know that while it helps revitalize struggling businesses, in true reality TV fashion, it airs the feuds and tears for the entertainment of people all over the country.
Todd Chester thought of the experience as winning a prize.
“They’re going to come in, put lipstick on it, give you some free product and, yes, embarrass you, but it’s TV,” he said. “I’ve been doing business in the county for 21 years. I have a lot of friends. Anybody who knows me will probably look at it and not be shocked.”
Elise Chester was excited for the opportunity.
“I knew this bar needed it,” she said. “The name change was huge. SRO had a stigma that everyone had a good story or a bad story.”
Jake Pfaff moved to Oak Grove in 1993 and often went to Standing Room Only and still comes in now that it is called Boulder Lodge Bar & Grill. Both his parents rode motorcycles. Pfaff said there are great people amongst the biker community that do a lot of fundraisers for charitable causes. But he said there were times when things got out of control.
“I told (Todd) that you can’t sit in your own bar and get wasted every night,” Pfaff said.
The two signs illustrated the contrasting vision of the business.
SRO has four softball fields and an outside bar that Mack took charge of, while Todd and Elise Chester ran the inside bar and restaurant.
“Bar Rescue” shows Todd Chester drinking with his friends and standing by while a group of bikers throw a picnic table in a bonfire, get on top of the outdoor bar and burn out the tires of a motorcycle. All this was a backdrop to a softball game.
Show host Jon Taffer told them drastic changes would be needed or new customers would not come in and eventually the business could close.
Taffer brought in chef Vic Vegas and mixologists Mia Mastroiani and Phil Wills to recommend new dishes and drinks and to train the staff on how to be more efficient.
It was true reality TV, Elise and Todd Chester said. There were only a few staged moments. Todd Chester felt silly high-fiving as if they just bought the place. But all the drama and plot twists were real, including ownership and operational changes.
“There wasn’t any acting when it came to the staff. Our reactions are true reactions,” Elise Chester said.
Todd Chester said they did not “shove out the biker crowd” and still have special events for them. These are Chester’s friends. He used to own another biker bar called Fat Boys Bar and Grill in East Bethel that closed about the time he and Mack bought SRO. Elise Chester said rather than the bikers coming alone, they are bringing their families.
“You can go anywhere for a whiskey and a beer,” she said. “We’re pushing people to come in for the food.”
Oak Grove resident Shawn Johnson said some people still say they are meeting at the SRO. The name has such a long history in the community that the name will not go away overnight. It has been about five months since “Bar Rescue” came and went in a week.
But he thinks it is a nicer place to bring his wife now compared to what it used to be.
“It has more of a cabin feel than a hole in the wall,” he said.
To Pfaff, it is still a neighborhood bar that just went through some changes, and while he did not mind the old bar and grill, he thinks the upgrades were nice. He does not see Todd Chester getting drunk with his friends anymore at the bar.
Todd Chester said he completely cut himself off of whiskey and spends most of his time with his real estate business and lets Elise run Boulder Lodge. Sales are about 35 percent higher than this time last year, they said.
The busiest time of the year is when the softball fields are open. They are planning to install a new sprinkler system.
“Everything I do here, I do because I respect the bar. It means a lot to me. I have a lot of sweat and tears in this joint,” Elise Chester said.
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