Thirsty patrons lined up for 25 cent beers as billiard balls clanked off one another, a solitary singer tackled Styx’s “Renegade” and people took selfies in the fun-house mirror, it was the beginning of a normal Wednesday night of debauchery, revelry and camraderie at Circus Bar & Billiards on South First Street.
For Engineering graduate student Andrew Hartman, Circus was the ideal spot for him and his friends to spend an unusually quiet Wednesday night.
“It’s a very different vibe in having karaoke and the pool being the main focus,” Hartman said. “It is a fun place to be, you get to hang out with your friends, eat free popcorn and play pool.”
Yet, as DJ Pete took control of the microphone, he reminded the crowd that Circus, which has entertained college students, karaoke enthusiasts and pool sharks from Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County for over 20 years, will be closing its doors for good on Feb. 9.
Circus, which occupies the third floor of a multi-story nightclub complex, shares a space with the Millennium Club on the second floor, and the Cavern Club on the first floor. The Cavern Club, which elementary-school teacher turned bar owner Nick Easton opened in 1997, was the first of the three clubs to occupy the building, with Circus the last to open. However, despite its recent popularity, Circus has recently been sold to buyers from New York.
Yet, as the Cavern Club became a venue for large groups to rent out and the Millennium Club a spot for those who wished to immerse themselves in a world of LED lights and disco balls, Circus possessed a more laid-back atmosphere that attracted swaths of groups.
To longtime bartender and former manager Race Rogers, Circus’ unique atmosphere allowed guests a diverse experience.
“Hundreds of people could come here in a night and socialize with each other without being segregated by tables or by segregated by too loud of music at the dance floor,” Rogers said. “This place really is just a place to come and hang out and it is one of the only places people can do that in Ann Arbor in that kind of social environment.”
With Circus’ karaoke attracting hundreds of people to the stage to sing along to their favorite tunes, Rogers feels there is a renewed need for a karaoke bar in Ann Arbor’s nightlife landscape.
“For at least five years, we have done karaoke at least four times a week and it is packed almost every night, with three to six hundred people every Friday and Saturday night,” Rogers said. “With that said, that means there will be a lot of people looking for a place to sing karaoke … as karaoke is a bonding thing to do on any given weekend night, as you go out with a group of friends and sing some ridiculous songs.”
For Rogers, on a more personal level, not only is Ann Arbor losing a karaoke club and bar, but he is losing a place that he has come to spend a large amount of time over the past eight years.
“I have seen a lot of people come and go, hundreds of employees have come through and I have seen parties and anything you could ever imagine." Rogers said. “This is my home. I do everything here; from if somebody punches a hole in the wall, I fix it, if someone kicks a toilet off the drain, I fix it and if a fight breaks out on the dance floor, I go and take care of it.”
For part-time doorman Todd Howland, who has worked at Circus off and on for eight years, Circus was not simply a job, but rather an enriching glimpse into the lives of today’s youth.
“It has been an interesting time to put myself in the culture of young people,” Howland said. “It is nice to see young people who really want to work hard and seeing young people enjoying themselves.”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that Circus' closing has been delayed until Feb. 9.