Talking tiki with Psycho Suzis Leslie Bock

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November 8, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

You wouldn’t have guessed it in October, when the muck of wet concrete and mud swamped the front of the building, but the new Psycho Suzi’s could be open by Thanksgiving.  In fact, you might even be able to get a Suffering Bastard, spiked dangerously with 151, on Turkey Day.

Owner Leslie Bock — who has been tight-lipped about her punk rock tiki lounge’s move into the former Gabby’s space, at 1900 Marshall St. NE — confirmed that the new bar was “a wee bit behind schedule” and wouldn’t make its rumored Nov. 15 opening date.  

“We’re looking to the 22nd [of November] to be open at this point,” she wrote in an email. “But we are waiting on a few construction materials that have not yet arrived.”

The big hold up? A massive plumbing headache.

Bock’s team has had to complete a major upgrade to the old storm water drainage system at Gabby’s — a project that left the front parking lot a mess for six to seven weeks, visible to anyone driving by. The entire lot was excavated, and a drainage system was installed below ground. The effort cost over $100,000, Bock said, and took much longer than expected.

With the hassle now behind her, Bock’s ready to put the finishing touches on the new “Tiki Taj Mahal,” as she calls it. We caught up with her to chat about her plans to sell the current location, her neighborly staffing strategy and the odds of her squeezing in a nap while running three area businesses.

You mentioned the drainage system. And we've all heard about a beefed up patio. Are there any other big structural changes you're making to the old Gabby’s? How sweeping has the makeover been?
Lots of unglamorous and boring work has been done that customers will not likely notice, like an interior sprinkler system.  I would say there is a big transformation of the sports bar into a new retro/semi-Polynesian style restaurant with a larger kitchen and an indoor/outdoor bar opening out to the river.  75 percent of the first floor has been gutted/altered.  Upstairs was redecorated only, but has been visually transformed into a tiki Shangri-La.  Many items have been recycled.  It's been a giant arts and crafts project utilizing a lot of local artists/craftspeople.  The patio will be completely different than it was before and will be triple the size of the former Gabby's patio.

So, selling the current location is still a possibility? Have you had some interest?

I am planning on selling the current location.  There has been quite a bit of interest in it.  At this point in my life, I think trying to open and operate the Tiki Taj Mahal, as well as maintain Saint Sabrina's and Donny Dirk's will be enough work right now.  I don't have partners, so it's a one-woman show.   I would rather sell the old location, so I increase my chances of getting a nap.

Is the staff from the current spot coming with you? Anything you can divulge about the new menu or drink offerings?

[Johnny Michaels of La Belle Vie and Pip Hanson of Cafe Maude have been designing drinks, and chefs Mike Opland and Jessica Olson (both from Lurcat) and Tom Beheba (from Palomino & Zahtar) have been tweaking the food offerings.]
All the staff is coming to the new location plus about 40 new people, many of who are from the neighborhood and will be able to walk and/or ride their bikes to work.  We've added items to our menu, including burgers and new funny drinks.  We've also increased our tap beer to 12 options, plus an additional five taps of different beers in the cocktail lounge.
How are you feeling about the Nov. 22 target date?
Addressing the storm water has been the biggest delay.  We now plan to be open before the patio will be completely done (which is not our first choice, but hey, it's practically winter) so customers will see somewhat of a work in progress.  That's the way the tiki tumbles, I guess.  And yes, you can say we are expecting to be open Monday, November 22.