While the hand dealt to Renee Bennett, owner of Ace’s Lounge, hasn’t been ideal, she has her sights set on creating revenue with new ideas from the front to the back of the house.
The nightclub set off the beaten path of Cortez Rd. West in Bradenton at 4343 Palma Sola Blvd. doesn’t have the ideal location she says (it’s set back off the road and is hard to see). And it’s still, after 33 years, in some people’s minds, a biker bar (which isn’t true). But if Renee has her way, the club is going to ‘rock Bradenton,’ in a whole new way, with a new chef, awesome menu, and the continuation of regional/national concerts playing to a packed house.
A Colorful History
Renee’s mother was an avid gambler nicknamed “Ace,” (that’s how Ace’s got its name) and she owned two acres of land on Cortez Road in the Palma Sola area. On it was the Rainbow Lounge which she ran for years and she eventually sold the road-front parcel to 7-11 and built Ace’s in 1988.
She went as far as Tennessee for her materials – and had two semis drag back an entire demolished barn. The barn wood construction, and a little pecky cypress from the Rainbow lounge, creates a chill, rustic, cool, environment in this two-story club that welcomes customers to enjoy food and music seven days and nights a week.
Renee, her sister, and mom were running the place for years until just recently when Renee bought them out – they all had differing opinions on what to do to ensure Ace’s success. The infighting, Renee said, was “killing” her. Consultants, SCORE counselors, Chamber of Commerce members and others are encouraging Renee to focus on booking the bands as her number one priority, among other suggestions, and she has finally gotten through that learning curve and feels negotiations are going well.
Most everyone knows it’s a gamble running a bar and restaurant. Competition is fierce and people fickle. Now that the reins are fully in her hands, Renee has overcome that challenge with mom and sister and is now dealing with the day to day struggles alone. While bar fights are a thing of the past, people still don’t know that Ace’s is not a biker bar anymore (not that biker bars are a bad thing Renee says). It’s been a few years of offering top-notch bands with a significant cover charge to change the audience (mostly 50 to 60-somethings).
Reputation as key; nothing to do about location; the typical staffing issues. Coolers breaking down. A small galley kitchen. Low attendance. They’re all taking a toll on the bottom line.
The fact that Renee owns her own dental crown and bridge technician business makes it necessary for her to work a good 70 hours a week, juggling both businesses with no manager. How does she do it all?
“I’m pretty exhausted,” she says. But she’s focusing not on challenges, rather new ideas to increase revenue. In fact she’s throwing just about everything up against the wall to see what sticks.
What’s Working…Roll the Dice
The most noticeable change from the old days to now is the concert venue. People are sitting around tables and filling the dance floor for an often packed house with mostly regional and national acts and some locals like the Billy Rice Band and Kettle of Fish. While the regional and national acts are asking between a $10 to $40 cover charge, Renee is attempting to get that down so it’s a win-win for the club, bands and customers.
To offset cover charges, you can purchase a VIP pass for $175/year that gets you in to all events for free. This has been a coup for both Ace’s and concert enthusiasts.
Recently Ace’s went smoke-free, which delighted most. But for the smokers, sent business away particularly during the day. But it’s a thing of the present, and everyone’s offering a smoke-free environment, including the Clam Factory. The outdoor Tiki Bar at Ace’s and the deck accommodate smokers and dog, by the way.
Drag Queen Bingo and Male Revues are also a hit…who can resist those temptations? And the Blues Society International Blues Challenge Sunday, August 14 is sure to again attract a large turnout of blues fans.
The Wild Card: Creating an Ace’s that Rocks Bradenton
“You have to think what you can do – times-three every day,” Renee says. You have morning and lunch from 10 am to 2 pm; happy hour and dinner from 2 to 7; and more food and entertainment from 7 to close.
Renee’s decided to improve the food offerings and has brought in a new chef. Delicious bar food, full course meals and special menu offerings for parties and benefits are happening now and the full menu roll out is soon to come.
Renee is repositioning and rebranding and has a graphic designer helping her create a new logo. She’s also looking at slogans. And now she’s reaching out to YOU – her current and potential customers.
Please do your share to help Renee and Ace’s thrive and to keep quality music alive in Bradenton!
Ace’s shows and events can be found on the website at www.aceslivemusic.com. They’re also mentioned in The Bradenton Herald Weekend section; Sarasota Herald Ticket; and GoTonight.com.
For more information, stop in to Ace’s at 4343 Palma Sola Blvd. just of Cortez Road behind the 7-11 or call (941) 795-3886.
Photos by Patti Pearson and courtesy of Ace’s.