After months of anticipation, new bar and restaurant opens in Hartley
December 23, 2021
Hartley is once again a one-Stoplight town.
After months of hard work and anticipation, the Stoplight Lounge opened its doors to patrons on Monday night. Though they admitted to being a little nervous, owners Ryan "Stitch" Brehmer and Ashley Reid were ecstatic to show off the completely renovated building.
"It's been a stressful process to get here and it's been hard on us, but hopefully it'll be a good thing for the town," Brehmer said. "We saved the building, which was my biggest concern. Everybody thinks I'm a little crazy doing this in downtown Hartley, Iowa."
The Stoplight Lounge closed its doors in February of 2020. The building sat empty for a year before Brehmer purchased it with the hope of giving it new life.
Demo work on the bar's interior began in the spring. It was completely gutted and renovated, and former regulars would be hard-pressed to find anything left over from before.
White vinyl siding was removed to reveal the old brick exterior, part of which was repainted with grey and black paint. New arch windows were installed on the first floor, and second-story windows also got replaced. The building has a whole new kitchen and the basement was completely renovated with a prep-kitchen area and walk-in cooler.
There's also a new addition on the east side that houses the pool table and restrooms. Not a single inch of the building was left untouched, and Brehmer and Reid were proud of the finished product.
"It's been lots of work," Reid said.
Though the renovation process was overwhelming at times, Brehmer said the 141-year-old building was in better condition than most locals gave it credit for.
"For as old as this building is, I couldn't believe how straight and square it is," he said. "Everyone threw it under the bus saying the building was junk and not worth saving. Sure it's a little ugly and it needed band aids, but there were no buckles, no bows and nothing major."
Brehmer and Reid were hoping to open the business by Halloween, but delays in window installation pushed things back. Eventually the big day did come, which was a relief.
"I'm glad it's over," said Brehmer. "The only thing people would ask me these last few months was, 'When ya gonna open?' There's been quite a bit of buzz about it."
In addition to ice cold drinks, the Stoplight Lounge offers a full menu. Right now it's scaled back as the owners try to determine what does well and what doesn't. Eventually, they'll add broasted chicken made famous by former Stoplight owner Roger "Crispy" Crist.
Crist started the business in 1972 with John Korenberg and eventually passed ownership to his daughter, Rachel, who closed the doors last year to pursue a new career in nursing. Both Crispy and Rachel were there for opening night on Monday, with Crispy even pouring a few drinks.
"It looks really great in here," Crispy said.
Brehmer owns a construction and renovation company while Reid plans to work at the bar full time. They're easing into the business and learning the ropes, but since both used to work at the bar in the past, they have a pretty good grasp of what they're doing.
Brehmer and Reid plan to start serving lunch sometime after the first of the year, but for now the business will be open evenings only starting at 5 p.m. until close. A grand opening event will be held sometime this spring or summer.
"We wanted to get some stuff under our belt before we have our big opening," Brehmer said.
The couple is looking forward to seeing new and old faces come through the doors. Reopening the business has been a passion project for Brehmer and Reid, who hold many fond memories from nights at the Stoplight.
"It was just our place. It's where we went and hung out. I always wanted to buy the place," Brehmer said. "This has been a big deal for us. We want to thank everybody who helped. It was a big project and we appreciate all their hard work."