BANGOR, Maine — If the new owners of Benjamin’s — a longtime popular downtown nightspot — have their way, the club will soon become a popular night and day spot.
When Scott Anderson and girlfriend Judy Owens first started scouting potential eateries, the bar located at 123 Franklin St. was last on their list. The first choice was a seasonal restaurant in Southwest Harbor called The Dockside, but that deal fell through. Then they set their sites on The Garden Cafe in Bangor at Maliseet Gardens on Exchange Street, but the deal’s terms kept changing and the couple opted to look elsewhere.
The third time was the charm, but it didn’t seem that way at first.
“When we walked in that place, it was gross and smelled horrible,” said Owens. “I was thinking, ‘This place is a dive.’ We walked out and I said, ‘No.’”
But no became yes after the couple considered its location, space, cost and potential.
After signing a lease in late June and before opening on Sept. 3, they pulled up three layers of flooring covering mold and mildew, repainted, installed a complete new kitchen, and added a new sound system.
“We even sanded the concrete and re-tiled the entire place,” said Anderson, 40, a New York native and former snowboard instructor and high school snowboarding coach who managed a nightclub in Florida. “We probably invested close to $40,000 for everything.”
Anderson and Owens both feel their investment will pay off as they revamp the restaurant-night club’s schedule, entertainment, atmosphere, food and drink, and even its reputation — something Anderson debated before he chose to keep the establishment’s name, eventually deciding that since people would still be referring to the venerable bar as Benjamin’s no matter what name he chose, he would stick with it.
“That’s probably one of the hardest things to overcome, is the reputation as to what the bar was known for as far as rowdy, a gay bar, swingers bar, or a dive,” Owens said. “We just want it known as a place to have great food and fun.”
Owens already has begun to make food — something that traditionally hasn’t been part of the Benjamin’s experience — a key ingredient.
To introduce its menu to the public, Benjamin’s features free food buffets Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m. with items such as enchiladas, steak fajitas, chili, pulled pork sandwiches, tacos and soups such as chicken tortilla, taco, broccoli cheese and vegetable beef.
“We’ve tried to get away from fried foods, so the only ones we have are buffalo wings and taquitos,” said Owens, a former oral surgery assistant and X-ray technician.
The aim is to be open for lunch weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and switch to nightclub mode from 4 p.m. to close. It’s currently open 4 p.m. to close Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays.