Gunar Luhta admits that the descriptor below his Bridge Street bar’s name is not quite accurate. Then again, the “speakeasy” owned by Gunar and his wife Jenny, is hard to describe because it keeps evolving.
Just call it “Halcyon.”
“We want (patrons) to feel happy and relaxed. We felt halcyon best denoted that feeling,” Gunar says as we sit in the brick-surfaced alley next to the bar on Bridge Street’s north side.
The alley, from what Gunar has gathered, was where the cops parked their cars back in The Harbor’s heyday as a commercial harbor. The police station was just to the west of the alley, now an extension of the bar, outfitted with eclectic décor that defies categorization.
Inside, things are a bit more settled and defined. The dim interior has plush chairs reminiscent of a board room or good-old-boys smoking parlor. “The decor is sort of speakeasy,” Gunar says. “But that’s about as far as it goes.”
It’s posh, inviting and reflects a bar’s role as a gathering place where news is exchanged over spirits, wine and beer. It’s not necessarily the first stop on a date—that could be one of the restaurants up or down the street. But it is the second stop on the date, to dance and drink, or melt into the incandescent night.
Halcyon, open seven days a week, also is a place for the girls to gather on a Tuesday afternoon and gossip over burgers, or the grandmothers to swap grandchildren stories over wine. This place takes care of ladies, that’s for sure. During the busy times, there’s a door guard and he’ll even escort the ladies to their cars.
A male patron, heading to the men’s room, made it clear, however, that Halcyon is for everybody.
“This place is fantastic,” he said.
Halcyon offers a Sunday breakfast buffet from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. to make it convenient for shoppers who come to The Harbor for the farmer’s market (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Cost is just $8.99 per adult (beverage additional).
The bar opened in mid-July. It has been Gunar’s and Jenny’s dream for years to own a bar, and a relocation back to his home area several years put wind into the sails of the ship that has docked at The Harbor, not far from where Gunar grew up.
“I grew up here, but I live in Madison,” Gunar says. “I started working at Hil-Mak’s at the age of 14. I worked all through college tending bar and at night clubs. I just love the drama, the vibe and everything about a bar.”
Gunar pilots commercial vessels for a living. A typical assignment is to drive to a Canadian port on Lake Erie’s east side and take a foreign vessel to the lake’s west side. U.S. Maritime law requires a pilot of U.S. licensure be aboard the foreign vessel.
His decades on the lakes and ocean exposed him to many different bars and night clubs. Gunar says he and Jenny, who worked in health care, picked up bits and pieces from the bars they most enjoyed and assembled them into Halcylon.
“I wanted to bring a new type of culture to The Harbor,” Gunar says. “To bring a compilation of all that we enjoyed to his place, and then keep building on that idea.”
High on his list was service. Having been a server in various bars and night clubs, Gunar knows that service can make or break a business. He says hires are made based upon personality, not necessarily experience.
“The girls we’ve hired are very nice, genuinely nice people,” he says. “We want to create a place that is safe to enter because we cater primarily to women.”
The bar offers a wide range of craft beers, as well as wines. Kosicek Vineyards is featured. Gunar says spirits will be added as soon as the approvals are obtained.
Although conceived as a bar, Halcyon quickly grew into a food venue, as well. Featuring burgers as well as clever paninis like Breakfast in Bread and Strawberry, Brie & Turkey, the menu has a surprising diversity of sides like truffle parmesan fries, green beans, homemade mac and cheese and chorizo mac & cheese. Salads include Brussels Caesar and beet. And for those who can’t imagine a bar without chicken wings, they are listed under starters, along with fried vegetables, chicken tenders, loaded tots and shrimp cocktail.
Prices are as friendly to wallets as the waitresses are to patrons. Burgers with a side range from $7.50 for classic to $10 for the Reuben. The most expensive item on the food menu is the Rueben panini, $11, and that includes a side.
“Our food is offered at a very fair price,” Gunar says. “We didn’t price our food to make a huge profit. We want people to be happy when they leave and feel like they got a good deal. We’re going to do our best to keep our food prices as low as possible, out of respect for the community.”
Gunar says steaks and chicken will be added to the menu as soon as the grill is installed. And a pig roast is planned in the near future, as are live music nights.
Also in the works is a luxury suite above the bar as Gunar and Jenny develop the private party/wedding business side of Halcyon. They are doing it with help from their three children, ages 8, 10 and 11, who come to work with their mother in the morning and help her get the place ready for another day.
“Jenny runs 80 percent of this place,” Gunar says.
As a Harbor native, Gunar says he is thrilled to be able to open a business on Bridge Street and give back to the community that gave him his start in the restaurant and bar business. The couple looked at numerous locations as they sought a home for their long-held dream. They found it in the former Bridge Street Pizza location.
“This was number one on our list,” Gunar says. “I’ve always loved the Harbor.”