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Owners Martin Contreras and Keith Orr recently announced the sale of Aut Bar, the popular LGBT owned restaurant and bar in Ann Arbor’s Braun Court. Aut Bar will now be owned by BarStar Group, which currently owns and operates several successful establishments in Ann Arbor including Lo-Fi, Nightcap and Babs’ Underground.
Contreras and Orr first started doing business in Braun Court in 1985 when they opened the Mexican restaurant La Casita de Lupe. After a decade, they transformed the restaurant into Aut Bar, Ann Arbor’s only gay-owned, full-time gay bar and restaurant.
In 1996 the couple began buying additional properties in Braun Court, including the building that houses the Jim Toy Community Center — formerly the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project — and, beginning in 2005, the building that occupied Common Language Bookstore, which the two acquired in 2003. They operated the store until it closed at the end of last year.
Over the years, Contreras and Orr built the LGBTQ identity of the courtyard by hosting events and fundraisers there, including OutFest, which is now known as Ann Arbor Pride.
“With the announcement of our retirement, we are hearing so many stories from people who tell us that if it weren’t for the Aut Bar their coming out would have been very different, and not nearly as positive,” Orr said. “We’ve heard from couples who met at the bar. Some folks had relatively brief but profound relationships with the bar during their student years. Others have had literally lifelong relationships with the bar.”
Contreras said he will always be proud of what he and his husband accomplished in Braun Court and with the Aut Bar in particular.
“Keith and I have 34 years here in Braun Court,” he said. “It has become our family of choice. Aut Bar and Braun Court shaped us as well and gave us so many cherished moments we never would have had. Like the author Armistead Maupin so succinctly puts it, ‘It is our logical family.’”
Micah Bartelme, CEO of BarStar Group, said his company will preserve and add to the rich history of Aut Bar and Braun Court.
“We are excited to preserve the cultural and community resource at the heart of Braun Court,” he said. “We know this is an important institution that is cherished by the staff, customers and greater Ann Arbor community. Our company’s energy, systems and resources will allow us build on what Martin and Keith established while retaining the soul and essence of Aut Bar.”
Other residents in the court are, of course, sad to see Contreras and Orr go. But they say they are both encouraged and optimistic with the announcement of new ownership.
“We’re very excited to see the new owners continue to operate Aut Bar as an LGBT space that caters to our community,” said Leo Cartier, director of Ann Arbor Pride and a member of the board of the Jim Toy Community Center. “We’re all very excited to see what it looks like. It sounds like they are certainly making an investment in the community and I’ve heard great things from the staff at Aut Bar and other folks from the community who know Micah.”
Sandi Smith owns Trillium Real Estate, which is also located in Braun Court.
“I have spoken to Micah and just introduced ourselves and vowed to get in touch soon,” Smith said. “We’ve enjoyed our relationship here with Martin and Keith over the years, supporting the Jim Toy Center and hosting and co-hosting rather significant events. We’ve had some pretty good times here … We’re excited about what might be the new iteration.
“I hope that it continues to grow,” Smith continued. “And by grow, I mean in popularity and we get some vibrant businesses in here. The bookstore struggled for a while and it would be nice to have something open during the day during the hours that we are open. I’d like to see it continue as close to it is now but with some new energy.”
As for energy, Contreras and Orr say they still have plenty of it. And though they are retiring, they are not leaving the community.
“It’s amazing how many people assume we must be considering moving to Florida,” Orr said. “While I look forward to being able to escape winter on occasion, our roots are here. We’ve been too busy to be able to enjoy Ann Arbor. Now we will have the time to do so.”
TAGLINE Contreras and Orr are planning a Retirement Party-Pass The Torch Community Celebration on Friday, March 22, 2019. The event is free and open to the public.