BANGOR, Maine — Ashleigh Freeman is only 26, but she recalls what she considers the heyday of one of Bangor’s best-known night spots.
And now that she finds herself owning and running the downtown club located at 123 Franklin St., she thinks she knows a way to restore it to its former glory.
“This opportunity kind of fell in my lap so I took it and ran with it,” said the veteran restaurant/bar waitress and bartender from Bangor. “I’m not gearing it toward any certain age group. It’s kind of a classic pub with bar mirrors and a mirrored dance floor, a back patio with standing tables and a smoking area.”
The Phoenix Pub will offer an all-homemade menu featuring classic bar food along with breakfast items, and will cater to the late-night crowd.
“We’re featuring live music and DJs, and also doing late-night homemade pub food and breakfast until 1:30 a.m., and we’d like to go later as long as it’s not against any city rules,” said Freeman. “I have some friends in bands like Subsonic in Portland who aren’t really known up here, but they’re from here and they’re interested in playing.”
The Phoenix Pub officially opened last Thursday after a frenzied two weeks, during which Freeman and friends changed the decor and installed several booths and tables.
“So far, they’re loving the food,” she said. “Some were surprised how good the food was, thinking it was going to be typical premade bar stuff.”
For now, the pub is open 8 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The menu offers homemade jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks, loaded mashed potato balls (fried balls of mashed potato, cheese and bacon), corn dogs, chicken or pulled pork sliders, and breakfast sandwiches, pancakes and breakfast dogs (sausages dipped in pancake batter).
“I’m not bringing in frozen, premade stuff,” said the 2004 Bangor High School graduate. “I’d rather make it myself and offer fresh stuff.”
While much of her dining industry experience came at Texas Roadhouse — where she worked as bartender for six years, the last three of which she also was a bar manager — she also worked stints at Margaritas in Orono, Raena’s (now known as Penobscot Pour House) in Bangor, and one other place.
“I actually worked there at Benjamin’s After Dark for awhile,” she said with a chuckle. “I’ve watched it change hands so many times and not be successful and that kind of pained me.”
“I want to bring back the classic Benjamin’s feel from 10 or 11 years ago without the name,” she added. “I didn’t keep the name because I don’t want the reputation.”
The club’s new name is The Phoenix Pub and Freeman is doing her best to help it rise from the ashes of its last two incarnations: Yolo, a chemical-free dance club targeting students and a younger clientele that operated for about two months; and Benjamin’s After Dark, which was open for the previous six months.
Previous club owner Ryan Dempsey has turned the keys over to Freeman, who has a 3-year-old son.
“I do have a full plate, but I welcome it,” said Freeman, who has hired former Texas Roadhouse co-workers.
“It’s kind of like a reunion of people who haven’t worked there in a couple years,” she said.
Freeman is hopeful her club is the latest major development in a downtown revitalization trend along Harlow Street that includes the opening of Diamonds Gentleman’s Club earlier this summer and of the Half Acre dance and nightclub this weekend at the site formerly occupied by Gemini, The Spectrum and Club Ice below and behind Diamonds.
“We’re calling it ‘The Triangle’ right now and working hard to revitalize the area with Diamonds, Half Acre and us,” Freeman said. “We think it can really get back to when it was a big draw for night spots.”