The newest addition to the North Ave. bar community, Southport Bar & Grill (1815 E. Kenilworth Pl.), occupies the location most recently held by Cans. Indeed, the dust had barely settled from the former bar's infamous closing night imbroglio before work to open Southport began.
The first immediate difference is the smell. Maybe when the newness wears off Southport will develop an odor of its own, but for now at least, the signature rank of stale beer and Axe body spray that embodied Cans is gone, and the place actually smells clean. The bartender on duty told me they found "gobs of black sticky gunk" clotting behind the bar, "like the place had never been cleaned." I asked why he thought that might have been and he said the owners never seemed to be around much.
That's an important difference. The owners of Southport are in Milwaukee, and will presumably take a more hands-on approach to their investment than their predecessors.
The flooring is new, the furniture has been reupholstered, there are new faux-cream brick wall treatments, and a beautiful new decorative ceiling above the main bar. There are also 19 new TVs adorning the walls, so there won't be a bad seat to catch a game.
Southport is still a work in progress, though. Their main website is just a logo with an e-mail address, but their Facebook page has been active since October 13, updating events and daily specials, such as the "$10 Bottomless Mason Jar" on Mondays, or Wednesday's $6 domestic pitchers and $5 tall whiskeys. I came in with a friend for happy hour ($2 taps, $3 select shots) and we were the only customers for nearly two hours. There are 10 taps with a modest variety, the IPA from Lagunitas Brewery was the standout, and 20 more bottles and cans. It's a small selection that favors a middle-of-the-road beer drinker. There were no specialty or house cocktails that I could tell, and the sparse liquor selection clearly favors volume consumption over quality. The outdoor signage is nearly non-existent. And the "grill" part of "Bar & Grill"?
"The kitchen should be open in about a week," around the same time the permanent signs are installed. There should be an official grand opening event sometime soon after.
It's difficult to grade Southport Bar & Grill before their full operation is running, but my instinct is that it will develop again into a party bar, not unlike Cans. However, having new hands-on management and a new commitment to customer experience could make it a party worth attending.
Photos courtesy of Southport Bar & Grill.