kenny marks is opening kenny's upstairs in the former upstairs lounge space photo courtesy of kenny marks

Indo bartender Kenny Marks to open Kenny’s Upstairs in former Upstairs Lounge

Kenny Marks, Indo bartender and co-founder of the Save Me A Place cocktail pop-up series at Wild Carrot, will open his own bar, Kenny’s Upstairs at 3131 South Grand Ave. in spring 2023. The bar will be located in the former Upstairs Lounge space.

The bar will play to Marks’ strengths with a selection of cocktails, but there will also be something to satisfy every drink preference, including beers, wines and more. “I want to create a bar that I want to go to,” Marks said. “A lot of nights I just want a Stag and a shot, and other nights I want a high-end cocktail, so I want that place where the person who’s more comfortable at a dive bar can be mingling next to the person who only goes to cocktail bars, and they can both be happy with the product that’s there.” Marks added that Kenny's Upstairs will offer a strong range of non-alcoholic options, with NA cocktails, beers and wines all set to feature. 

The house cocktail list will be intentionally restrained – Marks said the goal is a “small to mid-size” selection – but each bartender at Kenny’s Upstairs will also be well-versed in classic cocktails. “I don’t want to rotate them out too often because I hate when you fall in love with a cocktail at a place, then you come in and you can’t ever get it again,” he said. “I want it just to be fun, I want people to have fun with it, and I think that’s taken out of a lot of bars who can take themselves too seriously – and I can take myself too seriously, too.”

Kenny’s Upstairs will also offer shareable cocktail bowls which can be enjoyed by groups. “It’s fun and it gets people hanging out and talking more,” Marks said. “When you go out with a group of people you’re there together, so you might as well drink literally together.”

The space has required extensive renovations, but Kenny’s Upstairs is now taking shape quickly. “Now we're actually able to start working on the more fun aspects of building out,” Marks said. “Our bathroom is finished, bar top is in, a lot of the core rehab is done, so now we're just looking [at] polishing and building out the actual bar … It's looking closer and closer to actually appearing as a place you want to hang out in rather than just a construction zone.”

The interior will include a dark-stained cherry bar top custom-made by Teddy Lipka of Nome Furniture along with a mural by musician and artist Ashley Hohman. “Every detail is very important to us,” Marks said. “I think that's what makes places special, is when you pay attention to that.” The space has no kitchen, but customers will be welcome to bring outside food to the bar.

Founded by Tu Tien Tran, Upstairs Lounge became a legend in local clubbing during a 26-year run that ended with its closure in November 2018 (Tran himself had passed away earlier that year). Marks said Kenny’s Upstairs will pay homage to its predecessor without attempting to follow in its footsteps. For example, the DJ booth from Upstairs Lounge remains intact, although the eclectic music policy at Kenny’s Upstairs will complement the conversation rather than drown it out. “I don’t want people to think they’re getting Upstairs Lounge 2.0, because that’s definitely not what it is,” Marks said. “But the same people who enjoyed Upstairs Lounge, I think you might enjoy us for a different reason. You’re also a little older now.”

The plan is for Kenny’s Upstairs to open from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. six nights a week, closing on Wednesdays. Marks is targeting an April launch but expects to be open sometime in spring 2023.