Shaping an Oasis of Riverside Entertainment

Posted In: Culture, Restaurants,   From Issue 831   By: Robert E Martin

11th August, 2016     0

When it comes to resurrecting historic landmarks that carry distinct echoes from the past, Scott Causley and his wife Jill have managed to create the most distinct ‘Beach Bar’ in the Great Lakes Bay region with their amazing renovation and re-opening of the legendary Sand Bar, which back in the 1960s featured teen idols such as Bobby Rydell and later in the 1970s hosted such rock legends as Foghat.

Tucked away on six-and-a-half acres in Bay City’s Middlegrounds at 1201 Evergreen Drive, the freshly refurbished and re-named Scotty’s Sand Bar also sports 14 docks for boaters and is accessible by going over the Lafayette Bridge onto the Middlegrounds past the new Michigan Sugar Trails and down a long driveway – a beckoning oasis with a wall of large windows offering a broad view of the river, reasonable prices, and a large refurbished stage and dance floor to host live performances.

According to Scotty, the inception for this transformation of The Sand Bar began when he started going into business with a marine contractor, running barges & tugboats on the Saginaw River.   “I had no experience and began renting equipment and ended up taking over for another contractor, kept re-investing back into it, and bought out my competition last year,” he explains.

“I bought this place four-and-a-half years ago because I was renting space to store equipment, and the last time the structure was open was back in 2005 when it was a VFW Hall,” he continues. “Before that it was known as The Shipwreck back in 2002 and we ended up buying the building and the real estate because it was cheaper than continuing to pay rent.”

Needless to say, much like Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, this former haven and showcase for Rock ‘n Roll was in gross dis-repair, with a caved in roof, smashed out windows, and trashed bathrooms, just for starters. But once he purchased the property, Scotty and Jill started formulating a vision for the dilapidated structure.

“We built a dock and as fate would have it, the tour boats serviced by Bay City Boatlines were kicked out of the downtown area, which was a good location for them; but it didn’t work out, so I ended up leasing space for their tour boat. This has worked out well for both of us,” he explains.

“As for the building, when we first purchased it, the windows were smashed out, the kitchen gone, the baths trashed and the city wanted to tear the building down. So to make a long story short, I kept throwing money into the place and with the help of friendship and people coming to our assistance, we finally got the structure to a point where the building was usable.  Besides, it gives me something to do other than going up and down the river,” he laughs.

Three years ago Scotty got the property to the point where he could rent it out as a hall, but ran into consecutive hurdles obtaining a liquor license; until he finally found a top class one earlier this year.

“We’re on the water and have boat docks, so with our license we can handle Sunday liquor sales and beer take-out for boaters on the water. Our entertainment is covered so we don’t need to worry about BMI & ASCAP licensing and everything is coming together,” he adds. “A good friend of mine directed me to the right guy and we obtained the municipal docks at Seaworld and started dragging them across Saginaw Bay in the middle of November.  Currently we have 14 docks and can put about 16 boats into the slips, accommodating 9 to 20 foot drafts.”

With his musical background as drummer for the legendary Bay City group The Burdons and the accomplished Blues combo known as Bluesmobile, Scotty’s experience performing in countless bars & establishments also proved invaluable when it came to restoring the stage and dance floor at The Sand Bar, in addition to informing his sense of what he hopes to see the entity evolve into.

“Honestly, I never wanted to be a bar owner,” laughs Scotty. “I played here back in the day with The Burdons, but now that I’ve got the place, music is a big part of the overall dynamic just as it’s still a big part of me.  It’s a nice venue. Originally we wanted to open as a restaurant, but until we get the kitchen fixed and up to code, we decided to open as a bar instead and feature live entertainment.” 

“We do offer a limited menu with sandwiches,” adds Jill, “and we can also cater a nacho bar and we feature a chicken buffet on Sundays through a special permit until the kitchen is ready. We feature Philly Steak & Cheese sandwiches, broiled chicken breasts with potato salad, and the boaters seem to like it. They say it’s better and faster than fast food!”

Currently their line-up consists of Wednesdays Health Care Appreciation Night with $2.00 well drinks and domestic cans and 50 cents off domestic drafts when you show your work ID - plus Scotty’s band Bluesmobile provides the entertainment every Wednesday.

Thursdays are Open Mic Night and top regional bands & artists perform on the weekends, with Sundays reserved for polka with The Polkilodians from 4-8 pm. And on Sunday, Aug. 28th, Melissa May & Brian Coonan will be performing from 6-9 pm.

Causley’s renovation work continues as he plans to get the kitchen renovated and fully operative, while also envisions expanding the dock next year over the water’s edge, complete with an outdoor bar and stage. He also is collecting numerous artifacts and plans to put a tug at the end of the dock to serve as a maritime museum.  And with so much acreage surrounding the structure, he also doesn’t rule out holding a major summertime musical festival.

On tap are Bud Light, Bell's Two Hearted and Oberon ales, All-Day IPA (from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids), Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, Stella Artois, Leinenkugel Summer Shandy and Miller Lite. Prices vary, with Bud Light and Lite at $2 a pint, Cherry Wheat and the IPA at $5.

Webster’s dictionary defines a ‘sandbar’ as a raised area of sand with a top that is near or just above the surface of water in an ocean, lake, or river; and within this context, Scotty’s Sandbar provides a welcome oasis of hospitality, camaraderie, seclusion, and peacefulness to soak up the sunshine during the day and shake up the dance floor at night without breaking your pocket book. 

Do yourself a favor and check it out! They are open Wednesdays – Sundays from Noon – 1:30 AM and you can call them at 989-686-1175 and also find them on facebook


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