VOL. 132 | NO. 16 | Monday, January 23, 2017
Partners Open The Bluff Sports Bar on Highland Strip
By Andy Meek
The first time Nickle Smith took business partner Hudson Chadwick inside the space at 535 S. Highland, they were excited about the possibility of transforming it into something new.
In recent days, that’s what they accomplished. The longtime friends – along with Austin Wallace, all three fraternity brothers at Ole Miss – took what had been the former Newby’s theater and repurposed it into a combination concert venue, sports bar and Cajun-themed restaurant called The Bluff.
It’s open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
“Basically, I’d been wanting to do something similar to this and get into this industry,” Smith said. “I’ve been in retail, and I also for the past four years have been doing engineering for two different companies.
“I just really – I didn’t like the atmosphere I was in. I wanted to see different people every day and wanted something a little more lively.”
That’s how he ended up roping in some friends to launch a new bar on the Highland Strip, which currently employs about 40 people. It’s also planning to start offering brunch on Sundays next month.
Developing the business meant essentially rebuilding the existing venue, according to Farmhouse principal and creative director Ben Fant, who worked on branding for the venture.
There’s really nothing resembling the old space that remains, and Fant said because of that, the team wanted to create a brand that “felt like a rebirth.” Consequently, the logo has a “Cheers”-esque neighborhood pub feel to it, with the suggestion of a music note on one side.
“The Bluff is a great place for live music, but it’s also great for lunch, sports watching, dinner and hosting private events,” Fant said. “We needed a brand that could encompass all of that.”
Smith had been looking for a space to try out his concept. When he came across the Highland spot, he saw a lot of work that needed to be done, to improve the walls, floors and more.
But he was immediately attracted by the potential. This, he thought, would be the perfect spot for a sports bar.
“The bones of the building were great,” he said. “The ceiling heights, the way the space was laid out. We saw a lot of potential.”
He reached out to Chadwick, who’d been involved with two restaurant/bars in Oxford, The Corner Bar as well as Rafters, which Smith said opened about 18 months ago.
“We immediately got to work designing the layout, how we wanted to do it,” Smith said. “We came up with the idea of, with the ceiling heights, we could put a second floor in here. It’s a similar concept to Rafters in Oxford, basically the same menu. Everything’s got a Cajun influence in it. We do po’boys, catfish, chicken. We hand-cut fries. We also have great burgers.”
He said the space inside, including the mezzanine, has a little less than 7,000 square feet, plus a little more than 1,000 square feet of outdoor patio space.
Eventually, the plan is for The Bluff to also develop an event rental business that encompasses things like wedding receptions and corporate events.
“We felt like we could bring a great sports bar and music venue to the area, that the area was lacking,” Smith said. “We’re a bar for everybody. We just want to bring something great to the area, and we felt there was room for that here.”