The Fortune Teller Bar is back in business on Cherokee Street
After a change of ownership and a hiatus of almost six months, The Fortune Teller Bar reopened at 2635 Cherokee St. in Benton Park West on May 19. A soft opening on Friday night was followed by the bar’s grand reopening on Saturday, May 20.
New owner Ryan Schepers purchased the bar from Matt Thenhaus in January 2023. However, as part of the handover, Schepers had to apply for a new liquor license, with waiting times longer than usual in recent months. In a statement, Schepers expressed gratitude to Thenhaus for his help during the transition toward getting the bar open again. “We couldn’t have done it without Matt’s support and wisdom,” Schepers said. “I’m truly honored that he trusts me to carry on the legacy.”
A plant biologist by day, Schepers is a first-time bar owner, but was a long-term customer at The Fortune Teller Bar during Thenhaus’ tenure. When Thenhaus decided it was nearing time to sell up, he was looking to pass the reins to a new owner who would, in Schepers’ words, preserve the bar’s integrity and continue to serve the fanbase that The Fortune Teller Bar had built up over the past decade.
A conversation about Schepers’ wedding plans paved the way for another life-changing event. “My fiancé and I had our first date at the bar, and so we were going to have our wedding reception there,” Schepers said. “And that's when Matt was like, ‘Hey, I'd love to book this, but I'm looking to sell the bar.’ Schepers, looking for a passion project to supplement his main line of work, didn’t require much persuading. “I just kind of took the leap and went for it,” he said.
Schepers said he’s made a few changes to “fine tune” the interior of the bar – a fresh coat of paint, moving pieces around, switching out a few items, and bringing in an artist friend to create a new mural. However, he said the bar’s regulars will still feel very much at home. “This is a queer, spooky, witchy bar – that's what it's always been,” Schepers said. He added that he’s pleased with the early response from customers. “The feedback’s been really great so far,” he said. “We were incredibly busy Friday and Saturday. So many people had so many wonderful things to say about it, and especially what was important to me was that people who came to the old Fortune Teller coming back felt like it felt the same way.”
If you want to take home a piece of Fortune Teller Bar history, the bar will be hosting a yard sale on Wednesday, May 24, to sell off some of the decorative items that are no longer on display in the interior. The sale will run from 5 to 11:30 p.m.
The drink list preserves “five or six of the old classics” from the previous menu, including the Cherokee Street Fizz and Astral Projector. However, Schepers was keen to freshen up the cocktail list and wanted his new bartenders to put their creative stamp on the bar. “The folks that I hired to pick up the next chapter of Fortune Teller are all really incredibly talented bartenders,” he said. “I wanted to have kind of both the old and new coming together and creating something that would get people excited, but also still have the favorites that everyone would be looking for when we got the doors back open.” On opening weekend, favorites included the Benton Park Blackberry (gin, blackberry liqueur, taro syrup and lemon) and the FTB Vegan Sour (bourbon, housemade syrup, lemon).
NA cocktails also feature prominently. “It's really important that the people who come to Fortune Teller feel like they don't have to have alcohol,” Schepers said. “Whatever the reason they don't want to drink, we want them to still feel welcomed at the bar.” Two of those NA drinks are carried over from the old cocktail list, with two new additions. Schepers said the cucumber gimlet (NA gin, cucumber syrup, lime) was one of the weekend’s big hits. “It just looks really beautiful and tastes really crisp,” he said.
Schepers said that he expects to be announcing a new operator for the bar’s kitchen space over the next week or two. The most recent tenant, Brandon Gilliam’s Original Family Smokehouse, vacated the space during the bar’s extended hiatus.
Of course, it wouldn’t be The Fortune Teller Bar without the bar’s tarot card readers. “They’re already back,” Schepers said. “They’re kind of the backbone of the bar – we couldn’t do it without them.”
This is the beginning of a new chapter for a Cherokee Street institution, but over the weekend Schepers said he was just relieved to be open again. “It was incredible, just having people back in the bar,” he said. “It's a really beloved neighborhood bar, we saw a lot of regulars, with a lot of friends. It just felt great to be back to having people come through again.”
The Fortune Teller Bar is open from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday, and 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday.
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