New Keene business to become a bull’s-eye for food, drinks and late-night events
In a million-dollar business venture, former co-owners of Keene’s Wonder Casino are hoping a neighboring space will be a bull’s-eye for a new bar and grill they’re opening with regular late-night events.
Business partners Jared Goodell and Thomas Leech are soft-launching Bender’s Bar & Grill, an eatery and entertainment venue, at 166 Emerald St. in Keene on Friday.
Goodell said the two partners aim to be big and bold with their offerings to distinguish the business from others in Keene.
The bar boasts a roughly 10,000-square-foot space with a capacity for 290 people. It will feature comedy and music bookings each week and a mechanical bull brought out each Friday for customers to challenge.
Friday’s soft opening will commence permanent operations for Bender’s, as the business plans to celebrate its grand-opening week beginning Aug. 13. Until then, all entertainment events will be run in a limited fashion.
“I think one of the common things that people say about Keene is there’s not really anything to do here,” Goodell said. “We find it our goal to create things to do, so the casino was that first thing, and then we saw a spot for live music and entertainment we think was not being done in Keene.”
Leech and Goodell co-owned Wonder Casino, on 172 Emerald St., until last June when it was bought by father-and-son investors Dick and Stavros Anagnost, the co-owners of the former Keene Casino, which was on 222 West St.
Goodell said Thursday from Bender’s that he and Leech had run Wonder Casino for about 18 months before deciding to pass on the ownership.
Dick Anagnost told The Sentinel last June that he and his son approached Goodell and Leech after the property owner of the Keene Casino site developed interest in converting it into residential units.
The Anagnosts were interested in Wonder Casino for its large space, and made a pitch to buy it, since Keene Casino would need to move if it remained in business.
Leech and Goodell then took over the Bender’s space at about the same time they sold Wonder Casino.
Goodell said what is now Bender’s was formerly a gym business and storage area that were combined into one large room with a stage.
The bar and casino are amid several other businesses in the former silk mill-turned-commercial hub, like the adult shop Vybrant and the Keene International Market.
Goodell said he and Leech performed mostly “lipstick renovations” or cosmetic changes to the space to ready it for Bender’s. The changes included installing wall coverings, painting swaths of the bar’s public area black and adding lighting and screens, one of which Goodell touted as “the biggest screen in Keene.”
“What we’re really proud of and excited about is we’ve got a 10-foot-tall by 20-foot-wide LED screen, with a little over 3 million pixels,” Goodell said of the display, which he noted isn’t from a projector.
“It’s a giant TV screen that covers the entirety of the stage, so we can show things like (Ultimate Fighting Championship martial arts) fights this Saturday night, and football will show every Sunday on that.”
“Tom (Leech) and I spent a lot of time in Las Vegas, and the venues there have inspired us to really reach a level higher,” Goodell said, explaining the idea behind Bender’s. “This is certainly a bigger operation (than Wonder Casino) with food and beverage.”
An eclectic mix
Bender’s plans to host a variety of entertainment events such as music, painting classes and stage performances seven nights a week, some of which may require an admission fee.
Amidst this eclectic mix of events, Goodell said he hopes the bar can bring in performers who appeal to all ages.
“We certainly are not going to be the college bar; I think we’re going to serve the entire community,” he said.
On Sundays, the bar will show sports on the stage screen, and on Mondays it plans to bring in a piano show hosted by Lowell, Mass., musician Ricky Lauria.
Tuesdays will feature live band karaoke, which will give customers the opportunity to sing along to almost 100 songs an invited band could perform live.
The screen will also be used on Wednesdays, when Bender’s plans to host “game show-style trivia” by presenting questions on the screen and having teams input answers on keypads.
Thursdays will see comedians take center stage, for which the bar will place seats within 50 feet of the performance.
Bender’s mechanical bull will make appearances each Friday, while patrons will also be able to dance and listen to a DJ.
On Saturdays, the bar hopes the music and dancing will continue as the business will book local bands from 7 to 11 p.m. and a DJ from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
As patrons attend those events, Goodell said they can expect a pub-style menu of food to enjoy at a price point similar to other bar and grill restaurants in Keene, ranging from wings to steak to mac and cheese, including a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
“We’ve got the full run of beer, wine and liquor,” he said. “We are working with West LA Brewery in Swanzey to bring some of their products in.”
Another aspect of Bender’s that differentiates it from other downtown bars is its distance from Main Street.
To make the bar accessible for customers to visit and leave, the business will run a six-person golf cart shuttle around Keene’s city core on select nights when the bar is busier, which Goodell said would likely be Thursdays through Saturdays.
“We’ve worked with the police department to make sure that everything’s fine with that,” Goodell said. “We’ll be running that on the weekends and probably more in the evenings. If somebody’s downtown having dinner and wants to come down here to see a show, we’ll have that (shuttle) running.”
Goodell said he and Leech intend to run Bender’s long term, and that this week’s soft opening is the result of dreams Goodell has had since before he co-owned Wonder Casino.
“There’s just not been a place where you can go and really find entertainment in this town,” Goodell said. “The Colonial (Theatre), yes, but it’s a different environment.”
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