Back in the (Robin) Hood

Kate Bigam

New owners attempt to overcome bar’s shaky past

The Robin Hood Music Bar & Grille hopes to generate buzz after its reopening Sept. 1. LESLIE CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

A burly bouncer with a slicked-back ponytail spots three young men waiting at the corner of Lincoln and Main streets outside the Robin Hood Music Bar & Grille. It was 11:30 on a Friday night and they were presumably on their way downtown.

“Hey, you guys checked out the new place?” he asked them, gesturing toward the Robin Hood, where two equally burly coworkers guarded the entrance.

“No!” one of the boys yelled back drunkenly. “I heard it was nasty!”

The bouncer seemed taken aback. “What?” he asked, shocked. “Nasty?”

Sensing that his answer may have been offensive, the boy recanted. “Yeah, like good nasty!” he answered.

The walk signal flashed and the boys crossed the street, shrugging apologetically at the bouncer, who retreated to the doorway with his co-workers.

This is exactly the sort of reputation that the Robin Hood, which reopened under new management on Sept. 1, is trying to overcome.

The bar originally opened in 1936, but in the past 70 years it has continuously shut down and reopened under new management, somehow always resurfacing as a local hotspot. Its new owners hope this time will be no different – except they don’t intend to go out of business.

Jim Aman, who co-owns the “new” Robin Hood with partner Bill Jordan, decided to invest in the bar last June when he returned to Kent from a decades-long career in the Texas music industry.

“Dallas and I kinda grew apart,” said Aman, a Kent State graduate with a wide smile and a firm handshake. “My good friend said, ‘The Robin Hood’s vacant, man. You gotta come back here and reopen the Robin Hood.'”

Eager to move closer to his elderly parents in the Canton area, Aman agreed to give the Robin Hood a shot. In May, he and Jordan began to move forward with renovating the building. What they’d originally expected to be “a facelift” became a full-scale renovation. They replaced plumbing, electric wiring, bar countertops and the entire kitchen, which had been closed since 1990. And although Jordan said they considered renaming the bar itself they decided to keep it the Robin Hood because “it’s a landmark.”

“Everyone knows the Robin Hood,” he said.

The question is whether everyone who knows the Robin Hood likes the Robin Hood. It may be a landmark, but its reputation in the past few years has been less than savory.

“It’s not really known to be a good bar,” said former Kent resident Mike Kopowski, 21. “I really only go there to see a show, then you might have a drink. It’s mostly an old townie bar.”

In decades past, however, the Robin Hood was often known to be one of Kent’s premiere party locations.

Mike Peebles, who bartended from 1980 to 1982 during what he called “the heyday of the Hood,” said he has great memories of the bar.

“It was happy hour all night,” Peebles said. “The place wasn’t a heavy metal kind of place or a punk bar. It wasn’t a jock bar. It appealed to a generally good type of crowd, people who wanted to have a good time.”

Aman and Jordan are capitalizing on the idea of the Robin Hood as a music venue. With a new sound system and dance floor, the bar features live music on weekends and dance night on Thursdays.

“The place had a tradition, a good reputation for getting live bands, so we’re just picking up on that,” Aman said. “We won’t book bands with hostile energy, as they sometimes did in the past. We want a welcoming, positive energy.”

He won’t name names, but Aman swears the Robin Hood’s concert calendar has big-name shows in the works for late autumn. He said he hopes the Robin Hood’s concert schedule will revive Kent’s image as a live entertainment district.

And although the new Robin Hood experienced what Aman called a “soft opening” of about 200 people on opening weekend, they intend to begin promoting heavily.

“Like any business, we’re growing and we expect business to pick up,” he said. “With the food, drink specials and live music on weekends, we’re hoping it’ll bring people back.”

To reduce the cave-like atmosphere customers experienced at the old Robin Hood, the new bar features a bright, upbeat sports lounge upstairs, complete with flat-screen TVs, an electronic juke box and a refurbished bar.

Downstairs, where the atmosphere is more low-key, customers can pick up a game of pool or order from the kitchen, which is open until 4 a.m. on weekends and features Greek and American food representative of Aman’s heritage.

In the past, those who frequented the Robin Hood sometimes saw debauchery break out in the bar, like the time when Peebles witnessed a Halloween-happy drunk ripping a toilet out of the wall.

This time around, customers don’t have to worry about seeing their fun interrupted by hostility, Aman said. The Robin Hood employs “experienced bouncers that will send the message, ‘Come here and have a good time, but don’t be stupid,'” he said.

One such bouncer, Eddie Weems, is head of security, Eddie Weems. A bald guy with a toothy smile and massive muscles, Weems trains all of his bouncers in jujitsu.

“My motto here is zero tolerance, but the most important part of security, in my opinion, is psychology,” Weems said. “Make people feel warm and welcomed and happy.”

A popular guy around the bar, Weems socializes with customers but takes precautions to ensure no underage patrons are drinking at the Robin Hood. He plans to send students undercover with fake IDs to try to trick his bouncers; if one gets through the door, the bouncer will be fired. His goal, he said, is to return the bar to the glory it once knew.

And Aman is sure that the Robin Hood’s past reputation can be overcome.

“It’s sort of like a phoenix,” he said thoughtfully. “In spite of some bad years, it keeps on resurfacing as a popular establishment. It’s a bar, first and foremost, and people enjoy their drinking experience here.”

He smiled, looking around at the customers playing pool and browsing jukebox selections while enjoying 69-cent domestic drafts.

“This phoenix has resurfaced,” Aman said, “and he’s a little bit more upscale.”

Contact features correspondent Kate Bigam at [email protected].


• Thursday, Oct. 5: DJ Dance Night

• Friday, Oct. 6: Sanity Fare, 9 p.m., no cover

• Thursday, Oct. 5: Godot with If These Trees Could Talk and Great Escape, 9 p.m., $5 (under 21), $3 (21+)