For those who have worked behind a bar, there’s an inevitable moment when a patron approaches with the words “just come up with something”. That phrase could be anxiety inducing for many, but in the case of Bryan Williams, it’s a challenge to be embraced. For him, cocktails are a passion and that enthusiasm is the essence behind The Brass Eye.
The Brass Eye cocktail lounge opened in January, in the empty location that once housed the Stein & Vine in Niles, Michigan. It has been a favorite drink stop from the start. It was Bryan’s interest in mixing spirits and the desire to see a more thriving downtown that pushed him into opening his second business.
“Because of my passion for Niles and being on the DDA [Niles Downtown Development Authority], I hated seeing closed store fronts. It was that combined with my ever growing love for cocktails and not being able to find the cocktails, having to drive to wherever to find the cocktail I want to drink. I wanted to open a place where I was going to go and sit and have a drink.”
Bryan was already running another successful downtown Niles business, Trailhead Mercantile, a shop for hunters, fisherman, and outdoor enthusiasts. He gained his experience in outdoor gear working for most of his life in his father’s store, Trails End Sports (in Vandalia), and an instinct for business during years spent as a concert promoter. He educated himself in various aspects of promotion, including web design, logos, and posters, in order to make his business self-sustaining and to avoid the expense of paying others. He’s also long been involved in making Niles a thriving city, helping to bring in local entertainment and working to further develop the city he calls his home.
It was while operating Trailhead that ideas for the Brass Eye were already flowing. Trade shows would take him to Vegas, where he encountered skilled bartenders and cocktails unlike any he’d had before. An infused gin served by a Vegas tender pushed him to request new drinks and try new things. Each visit to Vegas sent him home with new ideas. When he wasn’t able to find them at hometown bars, he’d figure out how to make them himself and bounce them off local bartenders. He took time and practiced to improve his craft. One idea would lead to another and a passion for drinks was born.
“If you’re going to put time into a drink like an Old Fashioned, it’s going to be good. And if you’re going to understand this cocktail, you’ve got to understand that one.”
The passion is shared by local residents. Bryan was able to offset portion of the start up funds through a crowd funding campaign leading up to the Brass Eye opening. The response both provided funding and proved that the community was invested and interested in having a place for high quality drinks. The energy didn’t end there. Since opening the shop, Bryan has kept busy enough that he recently sold Trailhead Mercantile (now open in the same location under the name Rusty Hooks Bait and Tackle) so he could focus solely on the bar.
He’ll also be expanding, currently offering a two item food menu, with more to come. He plans to bring in live, acoustic entertainment and host events to excite and inspire local cocktail and drink aficionados. There will be wine tastings, tap takeovers, and tasting events. Though looking over the bar gives the view of an array of liquor bottles, Bryan indicates it is just the beginning.
“I want more…more variety, more options, more tools, more ingredients.”
You can check out just all The Brass Eye has to offer over at their Facebook page.
These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.