Jay Byram was never in the bar business until he opened Spirits in Willoughby.
It was a year of planning for Byram and three and a half years of building Spirits in Willoughby to what it is today. At the time of his opening next to the tracks at 3872 Erie St., he said he wasn’t sure where he was going.
“This used to be a garden center. We opened in 2002 and put a garden center here. That closed after some of the bigger outlets opened,” Byram recalled. “It was vacant for about three years. A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you build a bar?’, and I never thought of a bar. So, I talked to the mayor and he was 100% in favor of everything we did. The rest is history.”
After opening in August 2017, business took off, Byram said. When it was being built, what is now Spirits in Willoughby’s biggest hit was installed: a large train whistle.
“A guy had come in and was scrapping things. He had a big train whistle in the back of his car,” he said. “I gave him $50 for it. It was broken and I knew a guy who was able to fix it, and I always wanted it on the roof.
“When I did the kitchen extension, I made things happen so we could put that on the ceiling. Now, that is our great success. People can hear it for miles.”
The 15-person crew and parking were also attractive to business, Byram said.
“It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. We have the largest patio in downtown Willoughby and in the summer the doors are open and people love it,” he said.
Spirits at Willoughby offers darts on Wednesdays and two bocce courts where leagues play on Mondays and Thursdays. Corn hole leagues also play on Tuesdays.
“There’s always something going on,” Byram said. “I met a lot of friends here.”
Patrons should feel comfortable when they venture into Spirits in Willoughby, said manager Terry Cruickshank, who has more than 45 years of bar experience.
“If you haven’t tried us, you should,” Cruickshank said. “We want customers to feel comfortable here. A wife can come here and sit by herself if her husband is working and she feels comfortable. The courtyard is dog friendly so people can bring their dogs, sit back and have a good time. We just added 90 seats outside.”
During the peak of the pandemic, the business closed like many others for three months.
“We were ready for St. Patrick’s Day. We were sitting on 900 pounds of corn beef that we couldn’t use,” Byram recalled. “We were able to freeze it and reuse it, but it was difficult. To do it again took a long time because. People were wary of going out.”
Cruickshank has noted that while the younger crowds spend their time across the tracks on Erie Street, they will come to eat at Spirits in Willoughby.
“They come here and eat because our food is delicious,” Cruickshank said. “We have a lot of drink specials, signature drinks, wines sold by the bottle, and we also have a full menu with something for everyone. Our chefs create things that are different every day.”
Before having a full menu, there were snacks available. After Byram installed a full kitchen, the full menu followed.
“I was never in the bar business, and now it’s something I’m proud of and it makes me happy,” Byram said.
Spirits in Willoughby is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
“We have a license until 2:30 am,” Byram said. “During the summer, we will put people there until 1 am. We have a beautiful fire pit under the gazebo. People just like to hang out here.”