The building at 5151 Leetsdale Drive that is now home to Inga's Alpine Lounge, which celebrated its grand opening on April 5, was originally an auto garage. But instead of using that as a concept, owner Leigh Jones says, the Scandinavian-lodge look of the building steered her and her partners, Margaret Moore and Jeremy Matzke, in a more unique direction. The end result is an establishment with a retro vibe, inspired by a fictional, fur bikini-clad muse.
And it's not the only way that Inga's looks to be different. Instead of choosing to do brunch, Jones says she and her crew decided on being a post-brunch place, where "you can go after you've had your brunch and your mimosa and you're looking for a patio and a place to sip on a margarita."
After nearly two months since opening, Eater spoke with Jones about how business is going, making regulars and plans for the future.
How did the concept come about? You could tell it was a really cool, mid-century modern building and it was originally an auto garage. We kind of thought maybe it looked like a Scandinavian lodge that you would find in the '70s or '60s. And we just kind of started working with that. When you're working on a budget, it's nice to have the building and space lead you a little bit. What makes sense to go here? What does the building want to be? We always try to really work with the structure that we have also.
What are your favorite features? I love the big, wide openness of the room. There's great light that comes in, and I also love the position of the bar.
At almost two months out, how have things been compared to your expectations? It's been great; the neighborhood has been great. The motto of our whole company is "make regulars." And we hired two women who had worked at the previous place [Pete's Patio Bar], so they know a lot of the regulars and it helps people transition. We've been hitting expectations, though it might take a little longer to be more like the Horseshoe, and be more of a bar than a restaurant. We've had a lot of people coming in for dinner, but still looking to find more of a late-night crowd.
Were there any surprises or unexpected issues since you've opened? Not really. I think we knew we would be a little more food heavy than we are at the Horseshoe or the Bar Car, but I think we're a little bit heavier than we even expected we would be. So that's kind of an interesting twist. The guy who's running the kitchen out there—Ryan Butcher—is just killing it and making changes as he needs to make sure that he can still serve a quality product and get things out in time. We had to change our happy hour a little bit because we just weren't getting it out in time. The managers have all been really quick and nimble to make changes as regulars and new customers need them.
Is there anything you would do differently? The front room is kind of our little lounge room, and it isn't quite as popular as our lounges are at the Horseshoe, so we're not sure if we just haven't found that crowd yet or whether the neighborhood doesn't really dig that yet. We talked originally about moving the door, and making that area more of a back room. So that's the only area that we're still scratching our heads as far as design layout. And we're not quite sure if that's going to change or just become a room to play darts in. We're still keeping our ear to the ground to see what everyone wants. It's kind of nice to be able to live in it for a bit before you go changing things full tilt.
What are the crowd favorite items? I think everyone is excited—and people that have been our customers downtown and have moved down to that area are excited—that Jonesy's fries are out there. So we've heard some really good response from that. Our little pizzas are just awesome and they're really fresh—nice and crisp and really good ingredients. It's just good bar food.
What are your upcoming plans? We have a giant patio, so that is a really big, fun thing to play with for us. We're starting a Sunday afternoon event called "Afternoon Delight" on June 1. Every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. we do margaritas and beer specials, and a monthly tap takeover. And then we'll do music out there. Every other week will be a DJ or a band. And at every place we own we try to do a big party once a year, like Jonesy's has their Memorial Day barbecue coming up. So we're trying to figure out what that will be for us. Scandinavian cultures have summer solstice parties, and unfortunately that's right around the corner on June 21. But we might play with something like a mid-summer sort of party, where we do a party on a Saturday night and really take advantage of the patio and have a cool band out there.