PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — The Handlebar, a staple in the Pensacola local music scene, is set to open on Friday after being closed for the last four years.
What started as a real estate investment, turned into the flipped music venue, but that didn’t come without some road bumps. Kathy Sandstrom and her husband, Chris McKean bought the building in 2019, and then the pandemic hit, putting a halt on construction.
“Originally, it was just going to be a little real estate thing,” said McKean. “We were going to buy it and flip it and then COVID hit. Robert then showed up and was persistent that we do something with it. So, we worked up the courage and here we are.”
Robert Goodspeed, now general manager of the venue, played in The Handlebar before it closed four years ago. Before approaching Sandstrom and McKean, he was looking to expand his music space, but was only looking to rent the vacant building.
“When The Handlebar closed, I opened my own space,” said Goodspeed. “I felt like we lost a place where musicians could come and play, so let’s open another one. I was already doing the venue and then COVID happened. I knew that the place I was in wasn’t sustainable. When I found out that The Handlebar was bought and was sitting vacant, I wanted to initially rent it out from them.”
From the idea of renting it as a music venue, to turning it back into the legendary bar it was back in the day, McKean said it was a long and tough process.
“I feel like the only way to make the music venue work is to have the bar attached to it,” said McKean. “The old Handlebar was just beer; they didn’t even serve wine. So, we needed to get the full liquor license. There was a lot of discussion and thought. A lot of people from the community reached back in with their services. Everybody was really into it.”
Giving the local music scene in Pensacola a place to hone their craft is something that McKean and Goodspeed said is huge.
“When you had a good spot with good bands that were playing regularly, that convinces other bands to want to come and play here,” said Goodspeed. “That continues the longevity of the music scene because you start getting bigger acts in here. Our hope is that they come here, they love it and they come back on a regular basis, no matter what we are booking. We want to be able to provide a variety of stuff for the people that want to check something new out. We want a healthy, happy music scene here in Pensacola.”
McKean visited The Handlebar back in the 80s and describes it as the only place in Pensacola you could go to listen to good music. His hope for the new Handlebar is that it will be a place for the community.
“It depends on what your definition of good music is,” said McKean. “For us, it was right where we needed to be. This was the late 80s, early 90s and you just couldn’t get it anywhere else. We had some really good acts coming through Pensacola because of that.”
For Goodspeed, he had a different experience his first time in The Handlebar but grew to love it because of the opportunity it gave musicians.
“Personally, the first time I came here I wasn’t a huge fan of it,” said Goodspeed. “I came when I was 18 and was a little overwhelmed by the smoke and the characters in here. I didn’t really know if it was my spot. Eventually, I got a chance to play here when there weren’t so many options around town, and I think that was the case with a lot of bands. It became home for me.”
Now, the two want the vibe to be positive, filled with good people.
“There will be no smoking inside, there’s a courtyard for that,” said McKean. “We don’t want to be a rough and tumble bar, but we will have good music. It really all boils down to community and being respectful to the community. I think we have the people in Pensacola that will show up and be apart of it.”
With opening day to the public being tomorrow, Goodspeed said it feels surreal.
“We have had a couple soft openings to prepare for the big night, so after that was done, I was more relieved,” said Goodspeed. “I felt great about it. I think it went as well as it could have on a much smaller scale. So, it feels great, and we are ready to see how far we can go with this.”
Friday night, the venue will host MS Paint, Acorns, Skinman, Mid Evil Times and DKG at 8 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 13, The Handlebar will have Acid Dad and Cavae starting at 7 p.m. The venue plans to be open every day except Monday.
“For shows, we are looking at mainly weekends,” Goodspeed said. “But, if the right tour package comes around, we will look at weekdays.”
Click here to see the full lineup of bands for the coming months. The Handlebar is located at 319 N. Tarragona Street in Pensacola.
“Come check us out,” McKean said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and will be a place for community. We are basically the same venue, but with a lot nicer facilities.”