Driving past the former Private Eyes strip club on Niagara Stone Road, it’s obvious work is underway to clean it up.
The for-sale sign declared the property sold just a few weeks ago, and the new owner isn’t wasting any time.
Although Will Neufeld has a lot of work ahead of him, including upgrades to the electrical system before he can get a business permit, ideally he would like to be open by June, providing great music in a completely renovated restaurant.
A Mennonite chicken farmer and grape grower, he says “respectable” is key in the transformation of the former strip club.
Leading up to its final days before being shut down and put up for sale last October was the site of some pretty unpleasant stuff, including a stabbing — not the image Niagara-on-the-Lake wants at one of its main entrances to town, he says.
“The whole idea is to improve the image of this property.”
Inside isn’t so great either — it’s seedy, worn, cavernous and dark — and not hard to imagine the entertainment provided over the years.
Neufeld is working hard to erase the image, but at the same time, wants to preserve a little of the character of the place.
The main stage is staying, for the live bands he hopes to feature.
One of the smaller dancers’ stages has been removed, with the floorspace to be used as part of one large dance floor.
A third stage will remain, but is being repurposed.
Neufeld grins when he says he wanted to keep something of the original, for the sake of tradition — the inside has been cut out to allow for the bartender and supplies, and a bar top has been built on the surface of what was once a stage.
He’s got more plans for the place, including the name.
“What do you think of Club Fifty 5?” he asks, for the site at the beginning of what is now a regional road, but which locals still call Hwy. 55.
He wanted Club 55, but discovered it was taken, and now he’s pretty excited with the alternative.
He just wants to showcase great local bands NOTLers and visitors, from the region and further afield, will enjoy, describing his genre of choice as country rock.
Although there has been chatter around town about a country and western bar, he says that’s not part of the concept.
Before he gets to that stage, his first priority is to “clean up the building and make it pretty,” inside and out.
For the exterior, he’s thinking grey with black trim, he says, “something classy,” with the look of an establishment that suits a visible location in NOTL.
Despite the ambitious desire for a relatively quick opening, “we’re not even close,” he says, with some factors out of his control, such as the necessary upgrades to meet current fire codes, and the inspection approvals which will be required before the Town issues a business permit.
His son William, an engineer, and his daughter Sarah, who both live locally, will be helping out with what will be a family business.
He hopes to offer great music and food in an environment where his family and friends will be comfortable — they’re telling him they will be there for the opening. Many have been so supportive of his goal they are offering to help, with friends showing up to dig in with cleaning up the interior — a big project, he says, which will take a while to complete.
The large space, with several rooms, is licensed for 426 people. He already has a liquor license, and while Neufeld is putting first things first, he is thinking down the road about an outdoor patio on the roof of the lower section.
“I just came back from New York City, where I saw two roof-top patios. I really like the idea, but that is a long way off. There is so much else that needs to be done first,” he says.
“We’re going to provide a good quality operation, a respectable operation. I remember when this place was the Rainbow Inn, and the Garden City Race Track was just over there,” he says, pointing across Queenston Road.
“This place was always hopping on race day. I miss those days, and I want to see this something like the Rainbow, packed again.