A new '70s-themed bar in Broadway District lets groovy times roll with replica of 'The Partridge Family' bus
GREEN BAY - If That ‘70s Bar came with its own theme song, you need look only as far as David Cassidy for the good vibes of choice.
The Partridge Family’s “C’mon Get Happy” is everything Green Bay’s newest nightspot is aiming for, from a ceiling filled with a galaxy of smiley faces to an entire corner covered in Twister dots to a surprise appearance by the original Charlie’s Angels in the restroom.
“We want people to walk in, be happy, have a drink,” said Brian Bunkelman, who co-owns the bar at 124 S. Broadway with Chris Hansen. “There’s too much crap going on in the world. We want to put a smile on everybody’s face.”
How better to lighten the load in such heavy times than to let patrons hitchhike back to the decade of disco on the dance floor, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” on Saturday mornings and “Rocky” on the big screen? We’re talking an explosion of “flower power” on lime green walls, lava lamps on the shelf and “Far Out, Man” stickers on the cooler. It’s a throwback to an era when people were divided over much more frothy matters, like whether the best thing about Miller Lite was that it tastes great or it’s less filling.
The nostalgia at That ’70s Bar is accompanied by a soundtrack of feel-good sing-along tunes. Think the theme from “The Brady Bunch,” The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” Cher’s “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” or England Dan & John Ford Coley’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”
“You hear these songs and it just puts a smile on your face,” Hansen said. “It just brings back good memories.”
That '70s Bar had to be 'completely different than anything else'
The idea for the bar had been rattling around in his head for the better part of 10 years. A child of the ’70s, he remembers walking out of the theater after seeing “Saturday Night Fever” and striking the iconic John Travolta dance pose on the street corner. He can rattle off one-hit wonder chart-toppers of his youth, including 1970’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse.
It wasn’t until about two years ago that he and Bunkelman, who also co-own The Sardine Can just two doors down on Broadway, got serious about looking for a location. They wanted not just to be in the Broadway District but to be near the Can, the kitschy, fishy, waterfront-themed bar Hansen opened in 2007 with Boyd Konowalski, so they could capitalize on Green Bay’s reputation as a bar-hopping town. They also knew they wanted it to be smaller than that establishment, with its large outdoor tiki bar and patio for bands, but just as big on fun.
In case you needed, here's a refresher on their idea of a good time at one of their bars:
“It’s a controlled frat party,” Hansen said.
“We want ‘Animal House’ on steroids,” Bunkelman said.
“But this had to be completely different than anything else in this town, in the state,” Hansen said of their latest venture.
Thus, the bar inside That ‘70s Bar is designed to look like a replica of the school bus-turned-touring bus made famous on “The Partridge Family,” the '70s show in which Shirley Jones and her five TV kids embark on a pop music career.
Each side of the long bar is painted to look just like a side of the bus, with corrugated metal over the wood to give it the right feel. Hansen and Bunkelman also insisted that spaces were cut on each side for real wheels, an ask that required working around the plumbing fixtures. The front of a rusted-out 1956 bus was cut off, painted and attached to the front of the bar that greets customers when they walk in.
“I would venture to guess there isn’t a bar in the United States that has that. Absolutely no way,” Hansen said.
A 'Laugh-In' wall, a pay phone and not a single neon sign
One of the walls is painted in the same psychedelic pattern of the famed joke wall on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” the sketch comedy TV show of the ‘60s and ’70s. That nod to the past might be lost on patrons in their 20s, but they’ll likely recognize the poster of a young Goldie Hawn from the show.
The life-size cutout of Travolta from “Saturday Night Fever” on the same wall has already become a spot for selfies since That ’70s Bar opened on Tuesday.
There are nods to the decade tucked everywhere, including an elaborate bar top encased with mementos from pop culture of the ’60s through ’90s, so that could be Lee Majors as “The Six Million Dollar Man” or “Josie and the Pussy Cats” your drink is resting on. A giant swirl painted in the women’s bathroom is something Hansen saw once in a ’60s ad for swimsuits. In the men’s bathroom, a giant photo of “The Gong Show” host Chuck Barris is strategically placed.
If it all sounds like it would be a blast from the past to put together, it was. There’s not much you can’t find online, Hansen said, and a lot of it was done without major cost.
“It was like an art project for me,” he said. “I love being artistic. This is the way I show it.”
He credits his late mom for instilling her creative flair in him at a young age, as far back as a school contest where every student had to make a shrine for baby Jesus. She found a way to do his with simple supplies, including a shoe box and clay. He won the contest.
“This is an extension of what my mom showed me, and I’m grateful for that. If she walked in here she would absolutely love this place,” said Hansen, whose daughter, Lyvia, painted all the flowers on the wall.
There’s not a neon sign in the whole place — the opposite of The Sardine Can, which is full of them — but there is a pay phone behind the bar that's sure to get some double takes. Hula hoops are there for the gyrating. Customers can sign the wall by the back entry. Bartenders wear fab ’70s threads. A sign reminds everyone of the golden rule: “Be Groovy or Go Home.”
“You can look around this place for a week and still probably not see everything,” Bunkelman said. “You’re going to have a lot of fun no matter what age you are. It’s just a different place to go to versus a sports bar.”
The idea is to stir up fond memories for people (back when “nobody was on their damn phone,” Hansen says) and get them talking — even if it means politely explaining that no, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu were not the first Charlie’s Angels. For every “Jaws” or Fleetwood Mac poster that made the cut as part of the decor, there’s somebody else’s favorite that didn’t, and Hansen thinks those will be fun conversation starters.
“Hey, how come they don’t have ...”
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It's Hansen's 11th bar on list that includes McSwiggin's, Hip Cats
The transformation from the vacant office building to That ‘70s Bar took only 12 weeks, a testament to the subcontractors who did the work and to Hansen’s experience when it comes to creative visions for bars.
This isn’t his first rodeo. It’s his 11th.
Hansen has a long history of opening memorable bars that draw a party crowd, beginning with Kokomo’s in 1988 on Lime Kiln Road.
He had seen the Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail” that same year and was inspired to make his first bar venture feel like a tropical getaway. He had a limited budget back then, so he asked his sister, who worked at a travel agency, if she could get him posters of warm weather vacation destinations to hang on the walls.
He and Konowalski partnered on some of Green Bay’s favorite nightspots after that, including McSwiggin’s, the early ’90s Main Street saloon where crowds danced on the bar and Green Bay Packers players regularly hung out. The two were also behind Hip Cats, which originated on Riverside Drive in Allouez and then moved twice to locations in downtown Green Bay, Harry the Hipster on Broadway and the Beatles-themed Cavern Club on Main.
With the exception of The Sardine Can, most lasted just a couple of years. They would take off in such crazy fashion that Hansen said he and Konowalski would get overwhelmed, decide to get out and move on to a different one.
“I will say this about myself: I do know how to open bars. I do not know how to run them, and I’m honest about that,” Hansen said.
That’s where Bunkelman comes in.
When Konowalski moved out of the state, he sold his portion of The Sardine Can to him. Hansen and Bunkelman, who have been friends for more than 20 years, have been business partners since. Hansen has the vision, and Bunkelman runs the operation.
“My thing with bars has always been, No. 1, make them look cool, and also I treat it always as an entertainment venue,” Hansen said. “A bar isn’t a bar just to come and sit down and have a beer. It’s got to be an entertainment venue. The music is hugely key.”
Tunes from the ’60s and ’70s will be in heavy rotation at the bar for the older clientele that comes in from 3 to 9 p.m. Disco and music from the ’80s and ’90s take over later in the night as the younger bar-hopping crowd swarms the two lighted dance floors in the bar’s front corners. Each comes with a garage door that can open so the Farmers Market on Broadway crowds can see in during the summer.
A few things have changed since Hansen first got in the bar business more than 30 years ago — credit cards, the drinks of choice, cellphones. He’s not playing the music on a VCR like he did at McSwiggin’s. When the six-hour tape ran out, he’d have to rewind it and start it all over at 10 p.m.
Social media has made it easier for bar crowds to find the fun, Bunkelman said, and things like where people might take photos in That ’70s Bar and how things might look on an Instagram post were considerations in designing the place.
But there’s one key thing that remains unchanged, no matter the decade.
“Twenty-one-year-old kids still like to go out and party,” Hansen said. “We liked it in the ’70s. They liked it in the ’80s, ’90s and right through until now.”
That '70s Bar
Location: 124 S. Broadway, Green Bay
Hours: 3 p.m. to close 364 days a year. Like The Sardine Can, it’s closed only one day for a staff party.
Halloween Pub Crawl: It’s among the downtown bars participating from 4 p.m. to midnight Saturday. Check-in is 4 to 6 p.m. at The Sardine Can. Tickets are required: $20 each for groups of four or more, $25 single; https://www.crawlwith.us/greenbay/halloween. Night includes a $1,000 costume contest and after-party at Kittner’s Pub.
Grand opening celebration: Nov. 11
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Kendra Meinert is an entertainment and feature reporter at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at 920-431-8347 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: That '70s Bar in Green Bay's Broadway District is blast from the past