Marcy Mays hands over the baton to Columbus musician, promoter and Ace regular Conor Stratton. In an extensive interview, the two spoke about sales, pandemic challenges, and plans for brighter, louder days at the popular Old North venue.
When Conor Stratton, originally from Yellow Springs, came to Columbus in 2017, he switched mainly because of the Ace of Cups.
“I had been coming to Ace of Cups to see shows since I was 18,” said Stratton. “I loved it here. It’s the only reason I’m even familiar with the old north, and it’s the only reason when I moved here I said, “I know where I want to live. I want to live somewhere near the Ace of Cups. ‘And that’s exactly what I did. “
Stratton, 28, holds a degree in music management from Hocking College and spent time in Athens at Ohio University. He ran the Dayton Music Art and Film Festival before starting the Springsfest, a Yellow Springs music festival headlined by Guided by Voices, Deerhunter, and others.
One day last fall, when Marcy Mays, owner of Ace of Cups, got together with friends like Carmen Owens (Grass Skirt Tiki Room) and musician / promoter Kyle Sowash to keep the venue afloat in the middle of the pandemic Stratton invited a friend to Ace’s terrace. discuss their hopes and goals. “My dream is to one day run a place like Ace of Cups,” Stratton told his friend.
Owens happened to be listening nearby. “To overhear Conor – who is known and loved and a normal face we’d see twice over the weekend – to let that phrase fall out of his mouth, it was like, ‘Oh my god. This could be the most perfect marriage, ”said Owens, who quickly disappeared inside to find Mays.
To say the past few months have been challenging for Mays is an understatement. Even with the inclusion of takeaway cocktails and socially distant shows on the outdoor terrace, the future of the venue hung by a thread. “Everyone was like, ‘Is your landlord cool about the rent?’ Well, but they keep track of things. And the reality was they probably wouldn’t let me sign the lease. That was the cold, hard fact of the situation, “said Mays, who also got a full-time job during the pandemic.” They had actually asked me, ‘Can we let other companies look at this area?’ I’ve always had a good relationship with them and I completely understand that they had to do that. “
Owens had been there when potential buyers walked the room in hopes of turning it into a microbrewery, and she knew how important it was for Mays to turn Ace of Cups into a music venue. After hearing Stratton, she turned Mays into the bar. “Carmen is always looking for me,” said Mays, who previously owned the Short North Bar Surly Girl Saloon with Owens and Liz Lessner. “It’s great to have friends who say, ‘You have reached your limit, girl. … You have to face reality. ‘“
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Mays found Stratton and asked him if he wanted to buy Ace of Cups. Stratton stammered, unsure if Mays was serious, then enthusiastically agreed.
If it were up to the two of them, everything would be settled immediately, but the legality of the lease and Mays’ financial situation made the transfer a month-long ordeal. “There have been some really tough fights that Marcy and I had to fight to make this happen,” Stratton said in an interview with Mays on Ace of Cups this week. “There was a day we were supposed to sign a rental agreement and within 24 hours almost everything crashed. It almost didn’t happen. And that was two weeks ago. “
Finally everything worked out. Stratton will take over the Ace of Cups lease on March 1st, along with business partners whose names he did not want to reveal. “I didn’t make any money. I have partners, ”said Stratton. “[The partners] now need to remain confidential only for their own work purposes. … You have been selected and, because of your industry background, you are almost explicitly involved in such places. While I could be the face of it and manage it for the most part, the people I work with are extraordinarily skilled and very aware of what needs to happen. The idea is that closing this place down will never be an option again. “
Mays said she couldn’t be happier handing the baton to an owner who will continue to prioritize music. “This place was created to provide Columbus with a venue that musicians would love to play and one that hopefully will treat musicians well,” she said. “I never really made any money here because I’m not a big capitalist. It was almost an elaborate hobby – an expensive, elaborate hobby. “
Stratton plans to host a reopening weekend sometime in March with a different local band performing every night. “We’re planning shows inside, but they’ll be submitted and socially distant, much like other places like Natalie’s [have done], “he said.” The good thing about this room is that it’s a much larger room, so there’s a lot more flexibility to actually keep everyone sufficiently apart. “
For shows, Stratton said Ace will continue to book new exciting acts with a focus on Ohio bands and continue to work with local promoters like Archie Fox Live and BravoArtist. “Some of these things are done in-house, but that doesn’t stop these relationships,” he said. “I believe in community, that’s why I like working with people. It will never just put us in the spotlight. “
As for the day-to-day operations of the place, Stratton said he has no intention of making drastic changes. It will still look and feel like Ace of Cups. But Mays and Stratton also agreed that it is a good time to hit the reset button. (“You can’t do a six-hour sound check,” Mays said.) Stratton plans for Ace to have regular hours and possibly quiz nights on certain days of the week, with other occasional events like Bloody Mary bars similar to Stratton’s visits at Casa Nueva in Athens.
One of Stratton’s biggest plans is to convert a service window into a permanent bar where guests can be served outside. “It’s going to make it really nice, especially at a time like this where if you just want to stay outside all the time, if that’s your personal preference, you literally can never get in and also has a huge glass window between you and them Bartenders, ”he said. “Or maybe you don’t like the band, but you love Ace and you just want to hang out at Ace – you can go out there and still get drinks and hang out. … So much of our priority is inclusivity. “
With that in mind, Stratton is also planning to incorporate de-escalation-trained security for the front and back of the bar to keep people safe during shows. “The last thing anyone wants is a space that is not safe for people who want a fun, peaceful, and shared experience. We’re just not ready to take risks, ”he said.
In the summer, Ace will likely host a combination of indoor and outdoor shows. During the fall and winter, Columbus may be ready for full capacity club shows, but there are no guarantees. “There is still a long way to go,” said Mays. “It will be a while before we are excavated.”
“For those who want to call this place their home in 2022, we need the support,” said Stratton. “We’re going to need people to take this ride.”
Selling conjures up a mixture of emotions for Mays, but the most important one right now is relief. “If I had to close this place, I would probably have felt like moving away. I am very relieved. I think if it were normal times I would feel a lot more sadness and craziness because there would be more personal confrontations with the emotions, ”she said. “But it’s a pandemic, and all of this feels a step or two away, which is actually not a bad thing for me. I would probably be an emotional wicker suitcase, and eventually I will be. “
Mays said she is eternally grateful to the people who have kept Ace of Cups afloat for the past few months. “It’s a miracle that with a few dozen regulars and some incredibly generous people who made very generous, unconditional donations, it got this far: ‘Try to stay open for another month. ‘That went a long way. And it worked! We are not closed, ”she said. “We have moved on and this place is going into the hands of someone who will take care of it. This is the best solution that could happen to me. “
Soon, after 10 years of Ace of Cups, Marcy Mays will be on the other side of the bar. “I’m really looking forward to coming here as a customer,” she said. “I think it will be a wonderful feeling.”
“Marcy drinks for free,” said Stratton. “Forever.”