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September 17, 2009

I don't like soft openings anymore

Will someone please define "soft opening" for me? 

Maybe there isn't a set definition. It seems to vary from owner to owner. For years, I thought a soft-opening was where a bar owner quietly starts serving drinks to friends, family and whoever happens to wander by. That way, the staff can work out the kinks.

I used to like to drop by bars and restaurants for a sneak preview during soft openings. But I've been turned away from the past two soft openings I've been to ...

When I dropped by the Blue Hill Tavern, I was allowed in but told they couldn't serve me because it was only open for friends and family.

And last night, I swung by Canton Arts and Entertainment on Boston Street, which was also having a soft opening. They wouldn't let me in! Talk about frustrating. From the sidewalk, the place looked great, though. I just wish they'd change that awful name.

Where are you going tonight?

Oh, I'm going to Canton Arts and Entertainment.



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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:04 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


If a place is only going to be open for friends and family, they ought to lock the door to avoid confusion. If that's what happened at Canton A&E then I don't see a problem.

How did you find out about it? If you "heard it through the grapevine" someone could have confused the owner's intention along the way. That's not really their fault. If someone spends their hard-earned money and sweat to open a restaurant, and before being open to the public wants to share the fruits of his labor with close family and friends, more power to them.

Otherwise, I can't for the life of me figure the logic of a restaurant that would have their doors open but REFUSE to take my money in exchange for food. What better way to make me a regular customer than to have me wander in and be treated like a dear friend or family member, even if I'm paying for it.

I can't speak for the bar industry but as a former retailer, when we had "soft openings", that just meant we threw open the doors and served whatever customers wandered in. Then once the advertising started and trumpeted, "GRAND OPENING", we were "official."

I can't imagine turning away prospective paying customers. Haven't they heard there's a recession on?

(I had a "time-out" when I first clicked {post}, so I'm doing it again. If this comment shows up twice, that's why.)

What is CAE all about??

This is most distressing, Sam. I will have this worked out by morning.

I guess the only thing worse than having a writer at your soft opening is turning away a writer. Duh. Were you wearing your fedora with the press pass that said SCOOP on it?

I like soft openings.

Set myself up for that one ...

I have a Tribune-supplied shock collar that prevents me from making jokes of a licentious nature and this topic has been killing me.


There's a difference between a soft opening and what's commonly referred to as "Friends & Family Night." Or there should be. In the many openings in which I've been involved (Damn you, BA, now I want to make dirty jokes), the soft opening is exactly as you stated, Sam. You just kind of unlock the doors, with no fanfare, and give it a test run. Typically, after a week or so of that (but sometimes prior to it), you have F&FN to see how the staff handles a packed restaurant...and hopefully gets your F&F talking your place up. In the good way.

I wandered into the Bill Bateman's on Rossville and 40 on a Saturday night last winter (hey, give me a break. My GF lives in Rosedale).

We passed a handwritten sign on a piece of paper but there wers a lot of people there, so we waltzed in without reading it.

After we got a round of beers, we asked the bartender how long the place had been open.

"Tonight is our friends and family soft opening," he said, "You're supposed to know someone. Do you?"

"Uh..Yeah. Bill!"


Should we have read the sign or should they have locked the door?

We wandered over there on Saturday night. Felt a little awkward walking in, because the bar side was totally empty.

I think the place has potential, but I'm not really sure what they are aiming for. The name is bad - and the way the bartender explained it, it's actually 3 or 4 places under one roof (lounge/bar, raw bar, restaurant). Each "room" has its own name (none of which I remember).

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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