What About Robert

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The BOB will soon look and act more like a Robert.

As the Gilmore Partnership gets ready to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Big Old Building, the group is changing downtown's largest entertainment complex. The four-level funhouse at 20 Monroe NW is growing upscale in surroundings and attitude by creating a new fashionable environment with enhanced menus.

Renovation work is going on throughout the 70,000-square-foot building, which cost the partners $7.2 million in 1996 to convert the 98-year-old warehouse into a popular nightspot.

"We've already done some things on the third floor, cosmetically, just to make the third floor more comfortable. Gill's Fish House has been enclosed, so it's similar to Judson's in that it's segregated from the rest of the building," said Gregory Gilmore, president of The BOB.

"Then we raised the patio that was outside on the first floor and now it's floating off the second floor. That opens in about four weeks. The old deck has been enclosed and there will be a bar in that area and a dance club adjacent to it," he added.

Gilmore said the new dance club, to be called Crush, will be small but upscale, and will move the music outside so restaurant patrons can have a quieter dining experience.

"That makes the whole building much more comfortable," he said.

But The BOB isn't pulling out all of its musical roots.

"We're going to be adding piano, blues divas and some very upscale entertainment — lots of big bands with horns. Things that are just a little more upscale and draw a little better clientele, as far as not having to worry about security issues," said Gilmore.

Work on the second floor includes adding new furniture and expanding a bar on the level that will take customers to the new deck and Crush.

Remodeling will be done in September. It not only marks an aesthetic change for The BOB, but also signifies a change to the business plan.

"I want to be in the restaurant business, not the bar business," said Gilmore. "All of our other establishments, from Rose's to Thornapple, are restaurants, and I think a lot of people have focused on The BOB as being a bar. That is so far from being true. It is a big part of it, but we have some really good restaurants there and they're getting better all the time.

"I think there is a lot more longevity in restaurants than there is in the bar business," he added. "If somebody opened up a bar two blocks away and it was a big dance club, the crowd would just go right down the street — and that's not the case with the restaurant business."

Even with all the work the partners have done, they weren't able to do everything they wanted to do, as the renovation exceeded their budget.

"It's the process that we will always go through, changing and upgrading. That will never end," said Gilmore. "I don't think this building will ever be finished. But I hope after September, we can stop changing a little bit."

Nonetheless, Gilmore was very pleased with what they have been able to accomplish.

"Lots of very positive changes," he said. "It's sort of like The BOB grows up and becomes Robert."

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