Ulloa is also looking forward to what will be going on at the Radio Room, music-wise.
“They have a brand-new, nice sound system,” he says. “It seems like it’s going to be a little bit more suited for live music. It looks nice. It’s exciting, actually.”
In addition to those staunchly pro- or anti-renovation, there are some who, while sad to see their old favorites go, are optimistic about what will arrive in their place.
Edgar Nuñez, who was a regular at the Zombie Lounge, says he will not have a problem visiting the new Radio Room.
“I [didn’t] have any qualms about it becoming the Radio Room or changing owners or anything like that,” he says, from his high stool at South Park’s Whistle Stop bar. “My general perspective on bars is they change ownership, it happens, business is business. I suppose I do feel a twinge of sadness that one of the places where I met so many of my close friends is gone, but who’s to say that you can’t have a good time at the Radio Room?”
Nuñez, who works as a Web developer by day and a deejay by night, has spun at many of the closed bars as DJ Edgartronic.
“One of my first deejay gigs was at Scolari’s,” he says. “It had its good times and its bad. I guess it just wasn’t my scene. I understand why people are sad to see it go. I mean, super-cheap alcohol, who can say no to that? But, like I said before, I’m a believer in letting things happen and giving the new place a shot and seeing if you like it.”
The changes are happening, like it or not.
“Here’s my theory,” says Heaney, giving Club Kadan’s bar-top a quick rubdown with a rag. “When the economy is good, people are buying big clubs and making big bucks. But the economy fluctuates, and since I’m here for the long term, I like small bars with low overhead, and I think everybody else is thinking the same way, getting small bars so that they can last through tough times.”
Heaney bought the Zombie Lounge from previous owner Joe Hicks in June, doing a light, 19-day renovation before reopening it as the Radio Room. His motivation to buy, he says, had a lot to do with the volume of bands that wished to play at Kadan.
“I had these punk-rock bands and these metal bands and these jazz bands playing,” he says, “and I was thinking, ‘I don’t have a stage, I don’t have an adequate sound system.’ So that’s why I started looking out for a live venue.”
The Radio Room fit his needs. Already an existing rock club, it had a core customer base and staff. Heaney, who has a background as a sound engineer, outfitted the bar with a new sound system in anticipation of a full musical roster. Two friends of his, Pete and Dan Smith, a pair of contractor brothers Heaney plays ice hockey with, made a few structural changes, renovating the ladies’ room and painting “everything that wasn’t moving” a fresh coat of black. With the new name and paint job comes a new set of drinks, including a Tanqueray pom blush (Tanqueray Rangpur lime gin with a splash of pomegranate juice and tonic water) for $4, and vanilla Absolut with Coke or Diet Coke for $3. Well drinks are $3.50.
In addition to Heaney, there are four other owners of the Radio Room, all his bartenders from Kadan. Before buying the club, Heaney set up a venture-capital account to which his employees contributed. Three years later, as the account reached $40,000, Heaney began looking for a spot to purchase. He bought the bar for $125,000.
“I decided to keep the staff,” says Heaney. “And [Hicks] told me of the nervousness of the staff, so I went down there and spoke to [them] and kept them all because, one, they have a good reputation, and two, because [Hicks] told me they were good people.”
But not all the purchased bars have stayed the same — or even similar.
The transformation of Scolari’s Office into the fully renovated “Office” is perhaps the most remarkable of the recent remodels. The site underwent a total overhaul, and it is no longer the dive it once was.
“Evolution” is the word on owner Ted Lithopoulos’s lips when talking about the facelift the bar has received.
“You start with something, and you end up with something else,” Lithopoulos says. We’re sitting at a table at Bar Dynamite, which he also owns, while he goes over some paperwork. “That’s how I expected it to go.”
Lithopoulos, who, though he has been a San Diegan since his teen years, is from Greece, bought the bar from George Scolari. Scolari owned it from the mid-’80s until 2008 and was in his 80s when he sold it in February.
Just before escrow closed in March, renovations began, which entailed a total gutting of the original interior, a tear-down of the exterior, and a full rebuilding of both.
“It needed it. Really [badly],” says Lithopoulos. “I don’t like to go to a new place and not put my own signature on it. To me it’s a waste of time. There was nothing there to keep, really; there was nothing. A lot of people went through there; it was a popular place. It [had] a lot of wear and tear. It was time. It was overdue, actually.”
The plans for the remodel were first developed by Bells & Whistles, a University Heights design company. Then Lithopoulos’s business partner and manager, Joe Balestrieri, took the reins and finished it off, their combined efforts producing the Office’s current feel.
“Definitely, we wanted a city kind of look to it,” says Lithopoulos. “Just basically a sexy, comfortable place.”
The purchase price and the remodel, Lithopoulos says, cost him just over a million dollars.
Any trace, save for the truncated name, of the old Scolari’s Office is gone. The new Office is sleek and black, everything brand new. The tiniest scent of fresh paint floats on the cool air, mixing with the scent of patrons’ perfume. Black leather booths sit tucked against the left wall, each with its own candle-topped round table. A latticed divider separates the booths from the bar for about 15 feet. Beyond that is the dance floor, complete with disco ball and a new deejay area, which glows with blue LEDs. The threadbare carpet, black-padded bar top, and low ceilings are things of the past.