Michelle Taylor imagined jumping an infinite number of hurdles when she and business partner Lisa Whitehead opened The Chrome Cat in Lansing’s Old Town – their first bar venture – in January. But she never thought one of those would be a run-in with the law.
“I was very surprised when I got sued. At least I’d like to be open before I do something wrong,” she laughs, looking back on the incident. A creditor of the Rendezvous on the Grand, where The Chrome Cat now resides, slapped them with a lawsuit after alleging he never received a memo that his investment was being sold. Now that the case has been dismissed (unless he appeals, Taylor says), she’s smoothing out other kinks, like the full kitchen she hopes to open mid-summer.
“Everything is fresh; nothing’s out of a jar,” says Taylor, a former truck driver for a GM supplier who fled before the auto industry crashed. Her life partner Simone Latuszek, who formerly worked for the secretary of state, is the head cook – and a superb saute chef, Taylor gushes. Though she has some restaurant experience, she gained most of her food expertise from her father, who was an executive chef at a country club in Gaylord. Taylor says she knows just enough about cooking to swoop in, should Latuszek need a helping hand.
Since the swanky LGBT bar opened on Jan. 9, its clientele’s been as mixed as its menu – an ethnic smorgasbord of hummus, vegetarian nachos and rotating dishes like enchiladas – which Taylor hopes to expand by the month’s end. The food, which will include many specialty dishes, was the catalyst for a smoking ban at the bar.
“We’re going to be really heavy on the food and wine, and you don’t think about going down to the dive bar with a fog of cigarette smoke while eating beef marsala.”
Like the smoking issue, Taylor and Whitehead polled the community on other aspects of The Chrome Cat, with patrons suggesting gluten-free beer (“I never knew there was such a thing,” Taylor admits) and inspiring vegan dishes. The lesbian community sees them as the new Club 505, a now-defunct bar in downtown Lansing that The Chrome Cat owners used to hang at.
The long, narrow 3,000-square-foot building, a bank in the 1920s, holds about 100 people. There’s a two-story ceiling on the east side and a mezzanine with pool tables. Remnants of the original bank are still intact: The original night deposit box is now the post office box, while the old vault is a storage room. They’re currently refurbishing the building, adding chrome-diamond plates to embellish the bar’s metallic feel, and each of the walls has its own personality; one features a row of arch windows, another features old album artwork, and eventually a third will display local artists’ work.
“It’s a really cool building,” Taylor says. Which is a major plus, considering, “our home is here anymore. We go home to pet the kitties and take a shower.”
The Chrome Cat, named after a motorcycle club – Great Lakes Sisterhood – Taylor launched in 2001, is situated along Grand River Avenue in what she calls “the Soho of Michigan,” where longstanding gay bar Esquire and queer club Spiral have been popular hotspots for years. “We are trying to stay away from (Spiral and Esquire) and make our own niche,” she says. “We’re more laid back in the music with not as young of a crowd.”
Except for Saturday nights, when the top-40 music sweeps in the 20-somethings (Friday is ’60-’80s music, and Thursday is Latin night). Once the kitchen’s complete, they’ll host a date night on Sunday with jazz and blues and eventually book live local musicians.
“The crowd’s been great,” Taylor says. “It’s been an everything-goes crowd. This is a place for LGBTs to come in and feel comfortable. This is their space.”