SAINT JOHN – One of the port city’s long established uptown bars has undergone a transformation.
On Tuesday night Cougars Lounge had its soft-opening as McGill’s. But it’s not just the name that’s changed.
Corey McGill has owned Cougars Lounge for nine years (the bar itself has been open for 14). After close to a decade into ownership, McGill and his wife Emily decided it was time for an upgrade.
“It was just time for us to take the space to the next level. . . Now is really the time to give our patrons a nice environment,” said Emily McGill.
“We want to get ready for the upgrades that will be coming to the Loyalist Plaza and also prepare for the number of visitors that are coming to the city through the cruise ships. We also have such a great following of people that we want to give them a really beautiful space to come and relax in.”
They didn’t hold back on the renovations. The bar has been completely redone with the help of interior designer Kim Jakobsen. The place has a brand new bar, lights, new bathrooms, dance floor, all new furniture, artwork and lounging areas.
“I don’t think there’s a space that hasn’t been touched,” McGill said. “Everything has been completely changed. ”
Another big change is that McGill’s will also be serving food. They have an agreement with their neighbors at the Saint John Ale House and its renowned chef Jesse Vergen to create the menu focusing on small plates and appetizers.
“We’re going to keep with Chef Vergen’s vision of changing with the seasons, going with what’s fresh, going with what people want to eat and he’s designed a very excellent menu for us,” McGill said.
Despite what the old name may imply, Cougars typically drew out a younger crowd most weekends. McGill says their long-time clientele will like the new look.
“We’ve had such a strong Friday night crowd and we’re excited to welcome that crowd back and we created this space with them in mind as well with a beautiful dance area and we have ceiling installations which will reflect lights in a really cool way during dance time,” she says.
That being said, they do see their customer base expanding. For instance, they can see business professionals having meetings there earlier in the day with a coffee and a snack, or couples coming in around suppertime for “date night”– something that didn’t typically happen at Cougars.
“We know the age will go a little older earlier in the evening and then get a little younger as the night goes on,” McGill said. “Our offerings will really be consistent and reflective of that.”
McGill said the things people loved about Cougars will still be happening. Friday night dance parties are still on and Tuesday’s open mic nights will also still be happening, but will be starting a little earlier at 9 pm.
“We are changing everything you see with your eye, but one thing we’ve been trying to share is that it’s the same owners . . . it’s still going to be a fun place to go and we want all of our previous customers to come,” McGill said. “But what we’ve done is we haven’t upgraded to exclude anybody, we’ve upgraded to include more people.”
With the bar taking on a new identity after 14 years, McGill said she and Corey are excited to continue to be a part of Saint John’s growing bar and restaurant scene.
“I’m really proud of having a business here in Saint John. I think it’s one of the best food scenes in the Maritimes,” she said. “It’s only getting better and I’m excited that we already have a foothold here . . . We’re excited to keep it going. It’s an exciting place to do business.”