When Lisa Saunders was just a little girl in Fort Smith, she’d often spend time in the mornings helping her friend Muriel get ready to open the Pinecrest Hotel for the day.
Staring at the rows of shiny glasses above the bar, she dreamed of one day opening her own establishment.
Decades later, that dream is coming true.
Saunders celebrated the grand opening of Blondie’s on Saturday night, named fittingly after her childhood nickname, when she sported naturally light locks of hair.
The lounge, located in the Pelican Rapids Inn, is a significant transformation from the former night club space. Fresh paint in warm colours, newly upholstered chairs, purple-felted pool tables, neon lights and wooden accents create a comfortable lounge vibe capable of making the immediate switch into a bumping dance club once the sun goes down.
“I wanted it brighter and I wanted it to have a more relaxed atmosphere, where people could come and enjoy themselves,” Saunders said. “I’m not just trying to get a certain group in here; I want everybody to come. I want the people who never go out and socialize to come out and feel comfortable here.”
Saunders, who spent 22 years in the healthcare field as a nurse, started thinking about a career change two years ago after her mother died of cancer. When the space at the Pelican opened up, she decided to take the leap.
With the help of friends and family, she and her partner Jerry Voyageur spent months labouring morning, noon and night to fix the place up and make it shine, while the public impatiently waited for a glimpse of the inside.
“It took a lot of hard work to get this place looking the way it is, and dedicated people to get it where it’s at now,” Saunders said. “When we were still in the phase of getting things together, there was no end it to it, because there was always something to do, something to fix, something to get cleaned up. Then every day, you’d come here and say, well it’s looking a little better. Now finally we’re open.
“For two months, people have been asking me when it’s going to open…So I feel happy, relieved that it’s open because I want the public to be able to come and enjoy themselves,” she said.
The bar is now open Monday to Saturday, 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. daily with themed weeknight events planned. On Thursday nights, Fort Smith’s finest will be able to take centre stage, choosing from 17,000 songs on the bar’s new karaoke machine. Those who want to hit the dance floor will have a regular Friday night club night to bust out their moves, while Saturday will feature an afternoon jam from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. with music catered towards more of a country crowd.
Special events are also planned for UFC fights, hockey and football games, and other sporting events, and weeknights will feature “name that tune” trivia games. Snacks like pizza, popcorn, nachos and hot dogs will be served every day.
Saunders said the space is versatile, serving as both a place to relax and have a good time.
“Say after work, people want to come for a drink, they’re not going to be yelling at each other because the music will be a little softer and the TVs come on if they want to watch something, but when it’s in the evening, shut those TVs off, turn on the (neon) lights, turn some down, put on that music and let the people dance,” she said.