AUBURN — Andrew Kirkland wanted to open an establishment where people could dress nicely without feeling out of place.
And when it came to the food that establishment serves, he looked to his native Jamaica.
Open as of Nov. 23, Lavish Lounge Bar and Restaurant offers an upscale vibe and authentic Jamaican food in the former Auburn Ale House at 288 Genesee St. Owned by Kirkland, of Syracuse, and partner Marcia Myers, of Auburn, the business isn't just a break from the ones that have previously occupied that building. It's also meeting needs that the city's night life wasn't, Kirkland said.
"This place could use something different," he said. "Everything's fairly similar."
Kirkland came to Syracuse 10 years ago from Jamaica, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering, worked at a few restaurants and also DJed. With those last two interests in mind, he began looking at opening a business about three years ago. He went to as many bars and restaurants as he could in Syracuse and Auburn, noting what they were doing — and what they weren't.
Then, earlier this year, an opportunity to open that business arose when the Auburn Ale House announced it would close.
As Kirkland and Myers started planning to open Lavish Lounge there, they soon realized the culture shock it would represent. For instance, Kirkland recalled seeing Ale House customers wearing pajamas and flip-flops. Those two items, along with hats and any head coverings, will likely be prohibited on the new establishment's dress code, which will be enforced by security.
"They tried to run the best business they could, but they pulled in people who weren't good for its image," he said of the Ale House.
Renovating the space also meant replacing walls that looked like they had been struck several times over, Kirkland said. Building out Lavish Lounge was a rough process overall, he continued, as an early contractor tried to raise his prices from what was agreed. But after parting ways with him, and receiving help from friend Robert Lang, Kirkland and Myers were ready to open.
The result is hardly recognizable from the Auburn Ale House, or predecessors The Blarney Stone and Smokey's Tavern. Oranges and purples dominate the color palette, and the matte white finishes of the high-top tables, which light up, complement the curvy shape of the chairs. Kirkland still wants to do more, though, including covering the wooden bar in white paneling and adding LED lights to bathe those surfaces. He'd also like to add more stalls to the spacious bathrooms, though has replaced their vanities and framed their mirrors in lights.
On each side of the bar are roped-off sleek white couches that will officially become VIP areas when Lavish Lounge holds its grand opening in mid-December. Kirkland said the lights will dim, he'll DJ and some of the TVs will be turned off at night to create the lounge atmosphere. Specialty mixed drinks like Jamaican rum punch will also be available for show as much as sipping.
The menu, meanwhile, consists of several Jamaican staples, including jerk, curry and brown stew chicken. Lavish Lounge also uses Jamaican rubs to spice up more familiar fare, like cheeseburgers.
"We tried to incorporate what we know with what people are already used to," Kirkland said.
As the Lavish Lounge welcomes its first customers and works out any kinks before its grand opening, Kirkland wants to make clear that the new establishment is for everyone. No one is discouraged from coming — they're just encouraged to come prepared for a more upscale experience than they might be used to, he said.
"I'm here to service Auburn as much as I can," he said, "and to please the people as much as I can."