In late December, the Idle Hour — a celebrated corner bar in Riverside for more than a decade — closed unexpectedly due to a structural issue involving a buckling wall behind the back bar.
Owners Brendan Finnerty and Randal Etheridge said safety concerns for staff and patrons left them with no other choice.
After considering many options, the owners held two fundraising events (one at Little Havana on Jan. 31 and the other at the Ottobar on Feb. 28) that raised approximately $14,000, Etheridge said Friday afternoon.
It was enough to keep their dream of reopening the Idle Hour alive, but not for much else. The money was used to pay outstanding bills for alcohol distributors and mortgage payments. (Etheridge said he and Finnerty own the building next to the bar as well.)
In a final effort to fix the bar's problems and move forward, Etheridge and Finnerty launched the "Save the Idle Hour" campaign on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo this week.
As of Friday afternoon, 93 people had donated $14,575 — approximately 36 percent of the $40,000 goal — in three days.
Etheridge said he was not just surprised by how quickly donations were coming in, but also the altruism attached to some of it.
"It's been nice to see even a lot of people donating a large amount of money without asking for any perks in return," he said on the phone. "Of the $13,000 or $14,000 that's there, probably a good quarter of it has just been people donating anonymously to support the bar."
Like most crowd-funding campaigns, Idle Hour's owners are offering one-of-a-kind "perks" to those who donate, from a bar T-shirt ($25) to membership in a new Chartreuse Bottle Club ($400) — think One-Eyed Mike's' Grand Marnier Club — to even the very stickered front door of the bar ($5,000 with local delivery or pick up only).
Etheridge called the campaign "truly our last shot" to save the Idle Hour (201 E. Fort Ave.). The hope, he said, is for he and Finnerty to match the $40,000 with their own $40,000.
To repair and reopen the doors, Etheridge said, will cost $45,000. They expect "some overrun" once construction begins, which explains the $80,000 ultimate goal between the campaign and their own capital. Any leftover funds, he said, will go toward fixing the staircase to open the second floor for the first time in Idle Hour's history.
At this point, Etheridge said he feels "cautious optimism" at the bar's chances.
"I think the way the campaign has gone so far is a good omen," he said. "We really want to keep this bar alive."
The strong start to the campaign reflects a community, built over nearly a dozen years of operation, with a sentimental attachment to the Idle Hour.
As explained in the campaign video above, the Idle Hour has attracted a wide range of fans over the years. Some come for the crisp sound system (hearing bands like Joy Division and The Smiths play through Idle Hour's speakers is worth a trip), while others sip Chartreuse all night.
Everyone seems to agree the modest Idle Hour, which has been featured in multiple "Best Bars" lists by The Sun over the years, has its own style and flair, and should be experienced in person in order to fully grasp its charm.
Right after the winter closure, Etheridge and Finnerty considered many options to help keep their bar running, including private investors and moving to another location. But after the fundraiser events this year, Etheridge said he knew they had to try and keep Idle Hour at its original location.
"The fundraisers that we threw really opened our eyes to see how much emotional support there was from just the people who lived in walking distance from the bar," he said. "These are people who have lived in Federal Hill for 10 years and have told us they plan on staying there for another 20, 30 years, and they want to make sure there's somewhere like the Idle Hour for them to go."
If all goes according to plan, Etheridge said, he and Finnerty will reopen the bar by the end of summer. He eyes Aug. 22, the bar's exact 12th anniversary, as a potential opening date.
After that, Etheridge said he hopes there will be no more concerns about the Idle Hour's future.
"Since we opened until now, I've had two kids and been married, and I could see this as a kind of place where my daughters learn to bartend and start working behind the bar when they're of age," Etheridge said. "It'd be nice to maintain this as a family business and a family neighborhood corner bar, if there is such a thing."