MJ’s Café expands craft offerings
By Kevin J. Gray
Photo: MJ’s Café is looking to expand its craft beer selection as it moves into a new location at the end of summer
MJ’s Café, currently located at 119 E. Third St., has been hard at work since October to grow into its new location nearby at 20 N. Jefferson St. For years, MJ’s has been one of the area’s premier gay clubs. With this expansion, owner Jerid Martel is hoping to entice additional customers with new offers, which he hopes will, in turn, expand MJ’s presence.
The move to Jefferson Street brings exciting changes. The new space offers nearly double the capacity of the existing location. The Jefferson location will also have an expanded game room with pool tables and darts – expect dart leagues in the fall. Martel hopes the large stage area in one of the new side rooms will allow the theatre community to put on shows. The expanded space will enable Martel to continue to work with groups such as the AIDS Resource Center, and to continue to support iconic events like Masquerage, which MJ’s not only sponsors, but also hosts an after-party for. Martel is also excited about adding a kitchen and outside seating.
But one of the most interesting changes is one that follows a trend seen in bars throughout the Miami Valley, gay and straight: a massive expansion of craft beer taps. Currently, MJ’s has 10 tap handles, half of which are devoted to macrobrews and ciders. Over the last several years, the other taps have hosted a rotating list of craft beer labels from local distributors like Premium and Cavalier. In the new space, Martel plans to expand to 36 taps, overwhelmingly serving craft beer.
Martel cites a growing interest in craft as leading to this expansion.
“A lot of our sales have transferred over to draft from bottled beer,” Martel said. “That’s one consideration, the amount of sales we have in that category. That’s the primary reason we’re going bigger.
“We’d like to get some of the Dayton area beers,” Martel elaborated, noting a desire to go local. “We do a lot of the beers from Cincinnati breweries. So, what we’d like to do is get the Dayton Beer Company, Warped Wing and others and give them a presence in the bar.”
Like many craft-focused bars, MJ’s hopes to capitalize on the current thirst for special releases. He anticipates with the expanded line-up, he will be able to offer special tappings on a regular basis: “We hope to be able to do a new tapping each week. I think that will allow us to do tastings of certain beers, and the beer companies are more receptive to bars bringing in new people to try to their beers.”
Bars expanding their line-ups to include more craft beer taps aren’t anything new, but what’s interesting about this expansion is that it breaks through several stereotypes. Despite efforts to be more inclusive, craft beer culture is still overwhelmingly white, male and straight. And gay culture isn’t one that people normally think of in relation to beer. But Martel notes Dayton is an open community that has embraced its gay culture. He sees the expansion into craft beer as a logical step, citing the blending of gay and straight cultures in high-end restaurants as an example of such crossover.
“I think, with the way society is, and the overall acceptance of gays, you can see the [crossover] when you go into certain restaurants where the majority of their clients will be gay,” Martel explained. “In this world, unless you are in a little small town where everyone is closeted or not wanting to be out in a gay bar, the mesh between everything anymore isn’t a huge issue. The acceptance level is there, I don’t really think it’s going to be a huge issue.”
While the clientele is currently mostly gay males 25 and up, Martel envisions a more inclusive shift in the demographic as the bar’s offerings change. This willingness to branch out in a variety of directions sets MJ’s apart from many gay clubs in bigger cities.
“Dayton has such a diverse gay community,” Martel explained. “If you were to go to Columbus or Chicago or one of the big cities, they have a target audience of what they go to. For example, I went to a place called Sidetracks in Chicago – you walk in and you’ve got all these big, burly hairy guys and they are all singing show tunes. That kind of stuff goes on in a bigger city but us, we don’t really have all that clique-ness. We are kind of like the Cheers of the gay bar. We’re mixing in aspects from what everybody would expect in a club.”
The move to the new location has been slow due to a number of unexpected renovations to the HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, but Martel hopes to be in the new space by the end of the summer. Expect a large grand opening when the time comes, and expect that grand opening to feature some spectacular beers.
For more information about MJ’s Café, including regular evening programming and news about the expansion, please call 937.223.3259 or visit mjscafedayton.com.
Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balance, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.