New look for old lounge

A major renovation is reaping new business for the Viking Lounge

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

The Viking Lounge recently underwent an expensive facelift and, so far, the bar's new look seems to be paying off.

"Since the remodel, business is up," said Viking Lounge business manager Rachael Helf. "It's too soon to put a number on it, but the increase has been significant."

With an investment of more than $250,000, the owners of the Viking Lounge - Arlene and Jack Tripp Jr. - hope to bring new life to the old bar located at 218 Front St. in downtown Juneau.

"It used to be the worst bar on the line," said Jack Tripp Jr. "It's been a major undertaking to get the bar to be a nice establishment."

Built in 1915, the building was originally used as a billiard parlor that catered to the socially elite during Juneau's mining era, according to the city's Inventory of Historic Sites and Structures database. In later years, Percy Reynolds, a local businessman, converted the building into Percy's Caf, a popular juke joint in the 1950s and '60s.

Coming full circle, the building became home to the Viking Lounge, Pull Tabs and Billiards in the early 1970s. The Tripps, who also own the Mt. Juneau Trading Post, Gallery of the North and the Percy Building that houses the Viking, purchased the bar six years ago.

 

"At first, we did a little remodeling just to make it livable," said Tripp, taking time out from his daily morning staff meeting at the bar. "A couple of years later we did more remodeling to make it nicer. This last project was big."

Completed June 15, the recent renovation included restoring the bar's patterned tin ceiling, installing new carpet, wall hangings and fixtures and replacing the building's entire storefront.

"Originally, for the storefront, Jack just wanted us to remove the existing canopy and replace the windows and door," said Jim Williams, owner of North Pacific Erectors, the company Tripp contracted for the bar's renovation.

"There was major water damage to the building which presented an entirely different situation," Williams said. "When you open up a building like this, you open up a can of worms. We had to replace the entire storefront and bring it up to code."

Although replacing the building's exterior became a larger job than anticipated, restoring the nearly century-old ceiling was surprisingly easy, according to Tripp.

"The ceiling was virtually unbreached, not really damaged at all," said Tripp as he admired the patterned tin from a barstool. "They just had to restore it, then we put up some period fans and hand-blown glass (fixtures) over the bar. The ceiling and the new storefront make a big difference in the bar's appearance."

And the bar's improved looks are attracting new customers, according to Tripp.

"Ultimately, we're a neighborhood bar," said Tripp. "There are people who have come here for years, decades - much longer than I have owned the bar. But now there's new groups coming in as well."

"A couple of hundred thousand tourists walk by this bar every summer," Tripp said. "Before the remodel we might see 300 in a summer, and now on any given day we see about 50 to 60 tourists a day. And there are more women in the bar. We even have bachelorette parties in here."

While the Viking entices a new crowd to play pool and look at its collection of Alaska Native artwork, the bar is still popular with its old crowd.

"I come here practically every day to play pool at lunch," said Ben Wallin, who works for the city. "I've been coming here since it was Percy's. It's a comfortable place to relax. It's always had a comfortable feeling."

Alison Kerr, a British crew member on the Ocean Princess cruise ship, agreed.

"There's a good atmosphere in here," said Kerr, as she played pool with two co-workers late in the afternoon last week. "We come here every time we're in town. It's a relaxed place. No one's coming up to you pressuring you to buy a drink and the toilets are clean."

For Rebekah Garcia and Cortney Terry, local women trying to get on the Viking's female pool team, the bar's remodel means a longer wait for the pool table.

"The bar looks a lot nicer but sometimes it's really hard to get a table. But other than that, it's great," said Garcia, as she watched a game.

In October, Tripp plans to accommodate his pool-playing customers by opening the second floor of the building, adding another 3,700 square feet to the lounge.

"The upstairs will be a pool hall and, maybe, a dance place. It will give the bar more options to entertain people," said Tripp.

"Our business theory is if someone wants to drink a beer, they can buy a six-pack and go home," he said. "You have to give people a reason to come into a bar and spend $3 for a beer. That's why we invested money to make the bar a nice place and provide pool, karaoke, pulltabs and great bartenders. Opening upstairs will provide us with even more options."



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