Joe Schlimm figured there was a market for a bartending service in Wichita when he looked in the Yellow Pages and couldn’t find a single one.
Twenty years after starting The Bar’s Open, it appears he uncorked a winner.
“I hired some friends, and we dressed up nice and started working parties,” Schlimm said. “People noticed us because we looked and acted professional.”
Mark Day joined Schlimm in the business a year after it launched. Although it was a part-time job for both – Schlimm is retired from AT&T and Day works at Cessna – it’s also been fun.
“It’s a great way to meet people,” Day said. “We’ve made a lot of friends and created a lot of what I consider lifelong friendships.”
“We’ve always liked throwing parties,” he said. “We make it special for (clients) and make it so it’s not any work for them.”
Of course, there’s plenty of work involved, from buying and transporting beverages and other supplies to setting up, cleaning up and finding good workers to help with all of that. Day said most events take about twice as long to prepare for as they actually last.
The Bar’s Open has been hired for hundreds of private parties as well as some of the city and state’s biggest events, including Zoobilee, Rockin’ the Roundhouse and the Miss USA pageant when it was held here.
Next month comes the service’s biggest annual job – running the alcohol concession for Riverfest.
“It’s fun running the biggest bar in town for nine days,” Schlimm said.
Schlimm said one change he made in the business was obtaining a liquor license so that it could operate as a “cash bar” when clients desired, although city officials were at first reluctant to grant that license.
“I went down to City Hall and said, ‘I want a liquor license. I work out of my home.’ It was unheard of. I sat there for two days saying, ‘Show me were it says I can’t.’ They finally said, ‘Well, fine, we’ll give you a license.’ ”
Schlimm said The Bar’s Open also carries the same type of liability insurance as a regular bar, which puts it in good steed with clients.
Schlimm does most of the marketing and scheduling, while Day handles the logistics.
Not surprisingly, there have been a few interesting moments along the way. There was the wedding reception where a security guard told them, “If there’s any trouble, just get down behind the bar and we’ll take care of it,” Schlimm said.
Day recalled the first time The Bar’s Open served the Kansas Rural Water Association’s annual convention at Century II.
“We had the bar set up,” he said. “There were maybe 50 people there. We went to dinner over at the Hyatt, and when we walked back in, there were about 1,400 people in the building. We both just jumped in there and made our way through that evening.”
The Bar’s Open still works that convention, Day said. “We try to build good relationships with the people we work for in hopes of getting that repeat business.”
Getting the Riverfest contract, which The Bar’s Open did several years ago, was a longtime goal.
“It’s by far the biggest event in the state, or one of the biggest,” Schlimm said. “Who wouldn’t want to do it?”
From a small beer garden, the concession has evolved into one that also serves wine and mixed drinks and covers a much larger area. The Bar’s Open will hire about 60 people to work the event.
Schlimm said Wichitans’ tastes in beverages haven’t changed much over the years.
“Rum and Coke is still our No. 1 seller. It was gin and tonic. Your basic drinks are always popular.”
Another constant has been the quality of employees they’ve had through the years – probably about 200 in all. In October, Schlimm and Day plan to invite them all to a big party of their own.
“We’ve seen our bartenders turn into lawyers, doctors, engineers, firefighters, educators and even a scientist,” Schlimm said. “I never had one, that I know of, steal from me or do anything wrong. I’m real proud of them. It should be a fun party.”