In 2009, the Time Out Lounge looked like it belonged in the 1980s. The longtime bar in the even longer-time Executive Inn was architecturally on its last leg. Officials from the City of Evansville were eyeing it for demolition to make room for a new ballyhooed arena. Kerry Chesser, then Time Out’s manager, left and took the concept with him to a longtime restaurant spot in the even longer-time Washington Square Mall.
His friends thought a bar at that location wouldn’t last five months. Bloggers were even less kind to Chesser’s vision: to move what had largely been a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall big on 1980s and classic rock cover bands to a mall that was seeing far less foot traffic than its competitor just down the road.
When Chesser (known as K.C.) was a teenager, he’d visit Washington Square and watch the monkey at Baynham’s Shoes or grab a drink at the Orange Julius. In early 2010, he scouted locations for a new Time Out Lounge, and he saw a much different mall, one with less chain retail stores and more consignment shops, accounting firms, and medical offices. The interior was quiet like a library.
To see Washington Square’s potential, K.C. had Gene Hahn’s help. Hahn, an owner of the mall, showed K.C. that the rent was low for a 2,700-square-foot space that once housed a piano bar and Cajun restaurant. Plus, parking was ample — but so was the risk. Would the clientele of a neighborhood bar follow an owner across town? “If I would have listened to my friends,” K.C. says, “I wouldn’t have opened.” But, K.C. was motivated. Since his first gig as a bartender at the horseracing track Ellis Park in 1994, he had been saving for his own bar, and he sunk that money into the new location. “I saved and saved and saved for this,” he says, “and it still didn’t feel like enough.”
The winter of 2010, K.C. worked to open his dream. He shed 50 pounds from his frame just due to nerves. On opening day in May, he put his parents to work — mopping the floors and scrubbing the toilets. At around 4:45 p.m., K.C. noticed he never placed cash in the register. His mom hurried to the bank, pulled $1,200 from her account, and readied for opening weekend. “I was broke,” K.C. says. “I had no money in my account. If I wouldn’t have had business that weekend, I would have had to shut the doors.”
The main gate of the Ford Center, which opened in November 2011, sits where the old Time Out beckoned beer drinkers. K.C., a University of Evansville men’s basketball season ticket holder, will be at the first game in the stadium, but he doesn’t miss the location. He surpassed his business goals in Washington Square and expanded to 9,000 square feet, thanks to the efforts of brothers David and Gerald Tutt of Tutt Construction. Currently, he is building a stage for his bands, expanding the dance floor, and adding 60 more seats, and preparing an outdoor patio.
His place has developed an ardent following, a crowd K.C. calls “mature,” a mix of night owls ranging from their late 20s to early 50s. A college coed rarely is spotted in the crowd. The bar is smoky. The music is loud. The drinks are the domestic variety. The food is Fall-Festival-friendly with fun staples such as pork potstickers (steam-fried Asian pork dumpling with a Kalbi glaze) and spicy pub pickles (battered spears with chipotle aioli sauce). K.C. added the menu when he opened in Washington Square. “When I worked with food reps, I told them I didn’t want regular tavern food,” K.C. says, because on the East Side, his competition consisted mostly of established chains. With food, he focused on the small details to make his menu slightly different — yet familiar. For example, he uses Angus beef and seasoned fries, and the portions here are Man-vs.-Food size.
The entrées, though, are not the main attractions. (“If I break even on food,” K.C. says, “I’m fine.”) The atmosphere — so strikingly similar to the Downtown original — brings people in, and even K.C. is perplexed as to why it is such a big draw. “I don’t know if it is the location or atmosphere,” K.C. says. “Hopefully, it is everything all in one.”