Downtown business pairs drinks with bikes

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Frequent downtown-goers in Ithaca may be familiar with the Old Goat Gear Exchange on East State Street, but now, there’s a new place right next door that’s catching some eyes. Steve Gelb, owner of the Old Goat, recently opened a second businesses, Bike Bar Ithaca, providing an intimate bar setting for cycling enthusiasts like him to enjoy.

“Bike Bar happened because we always thought it would be really cool to have a little bar back in the bike shop of Old Goat,” Gelb said. “I started looking at the logistics of that, and it seemed like trying to have a retail space and serve alcohol was probably, health-code-wise, not going to work out.”

That idea arose about two years ago, Gelb said, but it only started to become a reality when the space next door became available about a year later.

Having the Old Goat, a cycling repair and exchange shop, right next to a bike-themed bar seemed like a natural fit.

“We were doing group bike rides out of [Old Goat] on a regular basis, … and that was the kind of thing that seemed like this would be really cool if everybody could meet back here and have beers after the rides,” Gelb said.

It only takes one step inside to see the bicycle-inspired aesthetic of Bike Bar Ithaca. Old bikes hang from the ceiling, while gears are embossed in the bar’s surface and decorate the space behind the taps. The design comes from a long-held love of bikes in Gelb’s life.

“It is just my passion,” he said. “Bikes have been my thing for 20 some odd years, and I had a good collection of vintage bikes in the basement. I just figured I’d throw them up.”

Gelb said he really enjoyed being able to create the design of the place and stretch his artistic muscles.

“The one thing that I lost doing Old Goat was a ton of creativity,” he said. “I hadn’t done any artwork or anything in eight and a half years because I was running Old Goat, so being able to put this place together was really gratifying.”

Gelb worked with Anesti Zakos, a carpenter with Rocco Design Build, to finalize Bike Bar’s design. Gelb said he really enjoyed getting to work with Zakos.

“I’d bounce ideas off of him, and he’d be like, ‘we can do this even better than you picture it.’ So, that was great,” he said. “A lot of it was organic, working with him and putting it together. But it came together nicely, I think.”
Zakos echoed that sentiment, saying Gelb was a pleasure to work with.

“Steve was my favorite client, ever, I have to say. I can’t emphasize that any more,” Zakos said. “He had an idea for the space really developed in his head, and when we got together and started talking, … we jived really well. … The ideas were very synchronistic.”

Gelb said that Bike Bar Ithaca attracts an older clientele, mostly young and middle-age professionals, providing a unique space downtown.

“The one thing downtown was missing was … something that would cater to adults, so I think people like it for that reason,” he said. “We have a lot of jazz and acoustic music. We’re not getting students so much. We’re getting more people that are 30 and up that want to chill out, come drink.”

Zakos said he’s come to the bar just to hang out before, and he’s always had a pleasurable experience.

“I am enamored with the space,” he said. “I just love coming here. … It’s a great place to come after work.”

Gelb said business has been pretty steady since opening in November, and he enjoys interacting with patrons who enjoy bikes as much as he does.

“It’s hopefully bringing a little bit of the cycling community together,” Gelb said. “Having a place for cyclists to go and you might find somebody like-minded is nice.”

Though Bike Bar Ithaca has its own flair and style, Gelb said he sees it fitting right into the culture of downtown.

“Ithaca historically had a lot of funky places, and I think this is just another nice, little, funky spot that might cater to Ithaca’s personality,” he said “I think it fits in well for that reason. It’s a nice little unique spot.”

Gelb said he’s faced some challenges since opening, mostly in adapting to the differences in running a bar compared to a traditional storefront

“I learned a lot next door about bookkeeping and inventory and things like that, but this seems to be moving at high speeds, so keeping up with it and figuring out how to keep everything stocked and running properly is probably the biggest challenge,” he said. “We’re still learning a lot of the ropes, so we’re not perfect right now, but we’re trying.”

Some of Gelb’s Bike Bar team comes from Old Goat, and he hired a new bar manager to help get things running smoothly. He also puts in a lot of long hours himself at both locations. He said that once everyone gets into a rhythm, he’ll be able to relax his hours more.

“I have a good bar manager, so eventually, if that works, we’ll calm down, but right now, it’s the equivalent of dropping a kid off at day care – you really don’t want to leave it too much,” he said.

Gelb’s looking forward to the future of his space, he said, and building a community of bike lovers throughout Ithaca.

“I’m curious to see how much the cycling community gets involved here,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can run some clinics in the back. I purposely left that back space open so we can move furniture and do repair clinics and more group rides. So, getting more involved in the cycling community is my goal.”

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