Dave Thompson doesn't need to complicate things with a "theme."
Dave Thompson is more stressed than he needs to be. For the second time since he bought what was then known as Captain Crooks Cocktail Club several years ago in downtown Crookston, he's in the process of coming up with a new name for the bar. (It’s in conjunction with a bar/off-sale renovation project.) Years ago, he shortened the name into simply Crooks Club, but learned over time – the bar for many years decades ago was known as the rough and tough “The Viking,” after all – that having the word "Crooks" in the name when he's continually trying to shed negative perceptions about his business or the customers who inhabit it, might not be the wisest business strategy.
So Thompson and his staff recently conducted a contest. But instead of asking people to enter possible names for the bar and off-sale, Thompson welcomed other "ideas" as well, like a new "theme.” With Crooks Club, the establishment features old editions of the Crookston Daily Times on the wall from the days of prohibition, and there's kind of an Al Capone-like mafia feel to the place.
And I didn't even know that until Thompson pointed it out to me a while back.
That's because when I'm in a bar, whether it's during a pool tournament or if I'm in some small town somewhere in Minnesota for one of our sons' hockey tournaments, the last thing on my mind is noticing if there's a theme that permeates the business.
Some guy submitted "Legacy" for the new name for Crooks Club. When Thompson announced at a "Rename the Bar Party" that "Legacy" was the winning entry, it was like a morgue in there. The customers at the party were either confused by the name or simply didn't like it. In explaining it to the Times, Thompson said that individual walls inside the bar could potentially be dedicated to a name of the bar from days gone by. Like, for instance, there would be a "The Viking" theme on one wall.
The thinking here is Thompson is making this too difficult. Pick a name and stick with it, and then focus your efforts on making the bar and off-sale the best they can be.
When it comes to bars and off-sales, my needs are pretty basic. My priority list would, in no particular order, look something like this:
• Have very cold beer, like it's a degree or two away from becoming slushy. That goes for your coolers full of bottled beer in your bar, but your coolers in the off-sale, too. If I have to put beer I've bought in your off-sale in my freezer at home for 20 minutes when I get home in order to maximize its deliciousness, your coolers aren't cold enough. Same goes for your tap beer...the colder the better.
• If there are a couple decent sporting events on TV, by all means have a couple flat-screen TVs tuned to said sporting events. But don't feel like your "theme" needs to be “sensory overload” because you have 14,582 TVs mounted on the walls.
• Have smooth felt on your properly leveled pool tables, reasonably new and straight pool sticks topped with decent tips, and pool balls that look like they weren't purchased in 1975. Oh, and splurge on some green chalk now and then instead of providing only blue. Some type of powder to dry players' hands is always a nice amenity, too.
• Have top-quality speakers and a digital jukebox system. Nothing's worse than buying a bunch of songs but then not being able to hear them because two Jag-bombed college girls at the table next to you keep screaming to each other, “I know...RIGHT!?” every seven seconds.
My dad suggested last week that Thompson call his bar "The Downtown Bar," and I think it's genius. It's simple, and you don't need a theme. After all, the other establishments downtown that serve adult beverages are veterans service clubs, while Thompson's place is the only actual downtown bar and off-sale. Thompson needs to set himself apart from I.C. Muggs/Best Buy Liquors and the soon-to-be Drafts Sports Bar & Grill (and off-sale), which are both located on the north end of town. How does he go about that? By telling people via the name where his business is located.
If he wants to get even more geographically specific, Thompson’s business on Main Street could be known by the name that popped into my head about two seconds ago, "The Mainstay.”
I know, I don’t know how I do it, either.