A longtime neighborhood watering hole in Lakewood will be closing by the end of the year, ending a 30 year run of providing good times and memories for many of the bar’s dedicated regulars. Brought on by their landlord’s desire to sell the property, the closure of Bobby O’s on Detroit Avenue has left many concerned if the area’s red-hot real estate market is coming at the expense of long-established fixtures.
With the bars worn hardwood floors, bright neon lights and chirping jukebox, Bobby O’s is a quintessential neighborhood bar. Regulars liken it to their own rendition of the sitcom Cheers. It’s the kind of place where the drinks come cheap, the greetings come warm and the camaraderie comes in great supply. The atmosphere and the laid-back setting have allowed it to prosper for three decades.
“Everybody that comes into the bar, whether they are with somebody or by themselves, they feel comfortable,” said longtime co-owner Tracy Ostrander, who runs the bar with her husband. “It’s kind of like one big family here.”
Ostrander and her husband bought the business 20 years ago, effectively going from customers to owners overnight. The two of them are fixtures at the bar, matched only by the large group of regulars that have patronized the business since day one.
“You meet anybody. I can sit at any point here and talk to lawyers, doctors and Indian chiefs,” said Bill Keane. “They make it what it is. The people make this bar what it is.”
The bar opens bright and early each morning — around 5:30 a.m. — to cater to those who work third shift. The bar closes at 2:30 a.m. The nearly open-all-day, open-all-night offering has allowed the business to survive and thrive, despite the comings and goings of the traditional bar crowd. Some people come by just to talk. Others come by for just a couple drinks. Everyone is on a first name basis, Ostrander said.
That’s what makes the next part so difficult.
“We’re due to close possibly at the end of the month. We’re looking to push it out a little bit,” Ostrander said. “The landlord is selling all the property around here to build condos.”
While no formal plans have been submitted to the Lakewood Planning Commission, Ostrander said with great confidence that the property, the bar and the former car dealership next door will all be torn down as part of a redevelopment project. The bar’s lease was not renewed by the landlord earlier this year. While the lease expires on November 30, the Ostranders hope to receive an extension that will allow them to find a new place.
It hasn’t been easy.
Lakewood's sizzling real estate market, Ostrander said, is what pushed them out of their longtime location. The market is also making finding a new location incredibly difficult, due to higher rents and decreasing availability. For many of the bar's longtime customers, news of the bar's closing was a gut punch.
“I’ve been coming in here since before I was legal,” said Colin Dussault, who grew up around the corner from the bar. My first gig as a professional musician [when I was 17] was in this very room.”
Dussault, who has been coming to Bobby O’s for 30 years, said the bar’s closing and the potential redevelopment of the site concerns him has a neighbor and as a longtime customer.
“[The bar is] the fabric of what this neighborhood is, which, unfortunately, we’re losing. This is my neighborhood. This is my life,” Dussault said. “As a homeowner here and as a kid who grew up here, my biggest thing is what’s going to come here? Condos? They look pretty but they all look the same. Everything is homogenized. Everything about my corner that I have known for 50 years is changing, the entire dynamic. To me, the value was a place like this, a place like Barry Buick and the baseball card store. To other people, the value is a new building that really to me doesn’t have a soul.”
Not only were many dismayed to find out the bar was going to eventually close, but they were also concerned about finding a new watering hole to gather at and socialize.
“I’ll find my way as will the rest of the people but it’s very likely we won’t find each other on that way,” Keane said. “It’s been a wonderful run and these are wonderful people.”
While the Ostranders continue to survey and scout potential landing spots for the new bar, preparations are underway to give Bobby O’s its proper send-off. Dussault, who played his first show at the bar as a professional musician will be performing on November 24. He’s expecting lines out the door.
“It all started on these wood floors. To me, these wood floors are like the Grand Ol’ Opry,” Dussault said. “If I could cut a square out I would put it in my house.”