A rockstar San Diego bartender has moved back home to Buffalo, bringing his knowledge and experience to a new venue he is opening in the former Malamute bar at Michigan and South Park Avenues. Tim Stevens is leasing the funky building from developer Roger Trettel and expects to open ‘Ballyhoo’ in about four months. Stevens is excited to bring the spirits and craft cocktail scene that he helped create in Southern California to Buffalo.
“I’m not looking to scare anybody with a forty ingredient cocktail,” says the affable Stevens. “It will not be snooty or uptight, but it will not be a sports bar either. I want to bring something new to the table.”
He brought a truckload full of experience back with him. He also brought his wife Morgan, a “California girl” who just spent her first winter in Buffalo and loved it. She will join Tim working at Ballyhoo. San Diego Magazine named Stevens one of San Diego’s top 20 bartenders:
Stevens has been bartending for over 20 years, starting in New York at dives, huge nightclubs, fine dining, craft cocktail dens, you name it. He managed the Bitter End when he first moved to San Diego, and went on to open Prohibition. He spent four years tending there while co-founding the Bartenders Guild in San Diego. When L.A.’s highly successful whisky bar Seven Grand came to town, they hired Stevens to oversee operations. “I often come in second to famous bartenders at cocktail competitions,” he jokes.
Stevens is moving home because his family is here and he’s ready to own and operate his own place. He also says Buffalo is ready for what he is planning. Do not expect another pizza and wing joint.
“I have been opening places for other people but wanted something of my own. To open in San Diego would take a minimum $1 million investment. I can do more for less here.”
Stevens says he originally was looking to open in East Aurora but was talked out of it. “Ninety percent of my friends live in the city, I was heckled enough to start looking downtown.”
After looking at a number of places, he was drawn to the Malamute, a building he calls crazy and in need of vision.
“It is a strange little child, it screams 70’s union hall. I was drawn to the area and also the duality of the place. It will be casual but the quality of what we do will blow your mind.”
Stevens is planning a “strong remodel” for the building but is embracing the funkiness of the building. Stevens has a vintage sign to use on the exterior but plans few other changes.
“It would take a lot for the building to shake its past,” he says.
He will be tearing out a wall to open up the space, creating a small exposed kitchen, and putting in a new bar. Don’t expect a metal or concrete bar top. Stevens says the sound of a drink on a wood bar can’t be beat. He is also planning a patio on the parking lot side of the building.
“We expect to be a destination and draw to the area but also feed on the other positive things happening downtown, at the inner harbor, Cobblestone District, and the Ohio Street corridor,” says Stevens. “The area is great. It is an industrial area but change is on the way. And, I get to smell Cheerios all day.”
Stevens is just getting started on the project and will be submitted renovation plans to the City soon and also applying for his liquor license.
Stevens expects to have about ten employees at Ballyhoo and says training and execution will be paramount for his staff. “There will be consistent and relentless education. We will be flying some people in from New York City and the west coast to train our new staff.”
Bartenders will also be educating the customers. “I understand people are used to ordering the old standards at a bar. I will have that to some extent but the focus will be on craft beers and fine cocktails. The ingredients can be intimidating so education is key. It will take some time to introduce what has been a niche market to street level. Cocktails are paramount but it will be very approachable.”
There will be 15 community-based beers on tap from local and west coast craft brewers.
“I believe people will pay a little extra for something great but you will also be able to just get a pint at Ballyhoo,” says Stevens. “I want it to be a place you can hang out at everyday.”
The restaurant will be limited and focused on artisan sausages and house-prepared salads. It will be gastro pub style with sausages that pay homage to the Irish and German heritage of the area but also contain some riskier options. Stevens says the menu will be limited but it will be done well with what he calls “creative execution.”
“I am a cocktail guy, not a restaurateur, but I will put a twist on the food,” he says.
Bringing a new concept to Buffalo is exciting to Stevens and his enthusiasm is contagious. He has big plans for the area saying he envisions open three or so additional bars and restaurants in the both the city and suburbs over the next five years. One potential project would be with Trettel to redo a historic building next to the Malamute fronting South Park Avenue that would complement Ballyhoo.
“I am excited about it,” he says. “It’s like knowing a secret that you want to tell everyone about. This is home and it’s a city I care a lot about.”