The mechanical bull at the Whiskey Barrel in Laconia has been busier on some nights than others, but owner Matt Menengas said it provides a way for the club to distinguish itself from other bars. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Matt Menengas, owner of the Whiskey Barrel music club on Main Street. February marked the club’s first year of operation, and it was a year during which there were times that he didn’t know if he would make it to his first anniversary.
But make it he did, and he enters his second year of operation with plans to expand, while continuing to try and shed false impressions about the entertainment venue.
“We made it through the first year, which is good,” Menengas said. He opened the business on Feb. 4, 2017, as a partnership. But the business relationship soon dissolved, and Menegas found himself the sole owner and with a financial mess to clean up.
While he expected that the Whiskey Barrel would, like most other entertainment businesses in the Lakes Region, carry itself on the strength of summer crowds, he found just the opposite to be true. His first summer of operation was slow – so slow that he feared that the club would have to close its doors. His worst-attended show came during the summer, and for a band that had nationwide name recognition.
But, then, as the weather started to turn colder, he saw more crowds starting to turn out for shows. As the weather is starting to turn a bit milder, Menengas is hoping to carry the momentum of the winter into his second year of operation.
“We have quite a few big shows coming up,” he said. Colt Ford, who played in Laconia last year, is returning on Thursday, The Cadillac Three is stopping to play in April, and Menegas is diversifying the entertainment on his stage by mixing in rock acts, wrestling and comedians – such as Gilbert Gottfried, who will perform on May 13.
“I’m trying to bring some life to downtown,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s also battling the perception that the Whiskey Barrel is just a new name for the same type of establishment as the Funky Monkey, which previously occupied the same space.
“It’s a completely different clientele than what was in here before, a completely different atmosphere. Everyone says that they like the music, the atmosphere better, and it’s not just country music here. We have all sorts of cover bands, rock, comedy,” he said.
Menengas has plans to start serving food, though he cautions that the offerings will be basic bar fare, and he is thinking about ways to utilize a large basement space underneath the venue.
“We are always looking to expand. I’m not saying that the basement is going to open anytime soon, but we are definitely thinking about expanding down.”
He knows that he can draw people from Concord and central New Hampshire with the right headliner. What he’d like is to get those people to think about the Whiskey Barrel regardless of who’s going to be taking the stage.
“I feel that we’ve done really well with the music aspect of it, now we want to expand into other avenues to keep people happy.”
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