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Bar Exam: Opening up The Red Door's 10th anniversary

Published October 13, 2012 5:27 pm

Bar Exam • The downtown martini lounge boasts local art on its walls and locally crafted drinks, including this fall's pumpkin martini.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Downtown martini lounge The Red Door will celebrate 10 years in business this month with a film-noir themed party Oct. 20.

The celebration will have a 1940s theme, with a party featuring The Joshua Payne Orchestra playing classic jazz and accompanying singer/actor Erica Hansen. On an extended patio outside, DJ Jesse Walker will be spinning.

"It is basically two parties in one bar on one evening," said event planner John Geertsen. "The interior of the bar will be changing a little bit; there will be white tablecloths, flowers, candles and draping. Period or formal wear is requested — but not required. You don't need reservations. We want to give people a reason not to go to the dive bar down the street."

Walker, who was the resident DJ for four years at the lounge, is looking forward to spinning at the anniversary celebration, where he will play a mix of jazzy, funky, lounge and house music, with some Red Door classics thrown in. "I still play for them occasionally to fill in, or for special occasions like this," he said. " I think The Red Door was a milestone as far as bringing a more sophisticated vibe to SLC."

Owner Louise Hannig said the event is a continuation of The Red Door's quest to create a national or international vibe. "Our aim is to enhance the vision of Salt Lake as very chic and unique," she said. "As a city we have a lot to offer — the most amazing weather, surroundings, outdoor activities — and we want to help add nightlife to that list."

The lounge opened soon after the 2002 Olympic Games, with a drink menu that includes classic, high-octane, medium-octane and decadent martinis and original staff-crafted cocktails as well as an extensive selection of vodka, Scotch, whiskey and bourbon. It features seasonal drinks, such as the current pumpkin martini, the 12 Martinis of Christmas, and fresh presses in the summer. "We bring in things like blackberries from our own gardens," Hannig said, "and then for the saketinis, we use a local market to buy the lychee juice."

Hannig, who claims more than 25 years' experience in the food and catering business in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle, was inspired to open The Red Door after a former boss asked her to write a business plan for a local martini bar. He decided not to pursue the venture, but Hannig went ahead, based on the fact there was only one other martini bar in the city at the time, Kristauf's.

She saw the potential in office space next to the then-new Hotel Monaco, opposite the Capitol Theatre and kitty-corner to the Salt Palace Convention Center. "I knew the location would be a key aspect to the bar's success," she said. "We wanted a warehouse feel but also a comfortable feel. We took time and effort gutting the place. We made all the lighting, bootstrapped everything."

Another key factor in the bar's success was that it was only the second nonsmoking club in the city at the time of opening, when New York City had just implemented a smoking ban and Los Angeles was set to do so. "I was determined to follow the trend of bigger cities," Hannig said. "Other bar owners said we wouldn't make it because we are nonsmoking; in fact, the opposite has been true."

The other big milestone in the bar's history was the abolition of the private club laws in 2009, and The Red Door decided to do away with membership fees. "That plus the recession meant we lost revenue during the weekdays, but we became busier at weekends," Hannig said. "People don't feel pressured to become members anymore, so they can try different places. We want them to keep coming back to us because of our product quality, atmosphere and customer service."

That means, for example, that if there's a line to get in, lounge employees have been known to tell potential customers that they are too busy to offer a quality experience. "But we let them know the times the bar is quiet," she said.

The décor painted by local artists also helps to set The Red Door apart. From the portrait of Che Guevara on the wall to the scepter-wielding monkey in the corner to the bar's name, Hannig said she wanted to create a sophisticated, cool atmosphere. "The city is becoming more and more cosmopolitan and metropolitan and we want to keep being part of that journey," she said.

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The Red Door

This upscale lounge features martinis, whiskeys, wines, bourbons and specialty aperitifs. There's a DJ on Friday nights and live jazz on Saturdays.

Where • 57 W. 200 South., Salt Lake City; 801-363-3060

Open • Monday through Saturday until 2 a.m. Open at 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, and 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Events • A 10th-anniversary celebration with a film-noir theme will be Oct. 20, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Must be 21 or older. No cover.

Web • behindthereddoor.com