Nick’s Lounge, a popular Berkeley karaoke bar where people have found comfort in community, is up for sale after months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bryan Smith, who has owned the bar since 2011, stated in a Berkeleyside article that multiple parties are interested in buying the bar and Nick’s Lounge still has more time to give. To stave off the sale of the bar, longtime regulars of Nick’s Lounge created a GoFundMe page on behalf of Smith.
Dominic Mah, a Nick’s Lounge regular and karaoke aficionado, helped start the GoFundMe page in April with sights set on raising $12,000. The GoFundMe page has raised $8,750 as of press time, and Mah added that this money has been used to pay the monthly mortgage bills that Smith still has to pay while the bar remains closed.
Alyssa Osborne, a three-year regular of Nick’s Lounge, said Smith was trying to come up with ways to run the bar in a manner complying with COVID-19 safety regulations but could not find success without government aid.
“Karaoke is uniquely in violation of COVID — there’s drinking and singing. It’s kind of poetic,” Mah, a patron of Nick’s Lounge since 2013, said. “The karaoke bar is just asking for trouble. How are you going to modify that?”
According to the GoFundMe page, efforts are ongoing to apply for available loan or grant programs, but many other businesses are also hoping to secure this money, so chances of success remain low.
Osborne’s husband, Max Mollring, said bars and restaurants were a huge part of their “social fabric.” As a former bar worker himself, Mollring said places such as Nick’s Lounge were forgotten about during the pandemic, as Smith was not able to obtain government aid to keep the bar in his ownership.
“It’s super unfair that his business has been left to fend for himself,” Osborne said. “Nick’s is a really niche market. Karaoke is a hard thing to figure out.”
While Smith was not available for comment, the regulars spoke highly of his character. According to Osborne, Smith took over the bar in the 1990s after a career in education. Mah said Smith originally envisioned Nick’s Lounge to be a “cool old-timer jazz club” but later established the bar as a karaoke hub.
Over the years, Smith built a community at Nick’s Lounge, Osborne said. She added that she would go to the bar every Friday, sometimes before opening, and enjoy dinner and drinks with Smith and with friends.
The community comforted her through different points in her life, Osborne said. She received gifts of champagne bottles from Smith on birthdays and support during her father’s recent passing.
“He’s a one-man show. There were bartenders that worked there, but Nick’s was his baby,” Osborne said. “It was home away from home.”