Kimio Bazett doesn’t remember exactly when he and buddy Jon Modrow came up with the idea to open a bar.
It might have been while Modrow was sharing his misery over the lack of human interaction he found in his job as a genetics researcher working on fruit flies.
Or it might have been one of those golden afternoons spent bombing down sugared white slopes at a Tahoe ski resort. Modrow on skis, Bazett carving turns with his snowboard.
Whenever it happened, the result was one of Midtown’s most popular and laid-back watering holes — The Golden Bear.
"We were two people who made a huge effort to make a dream become a reality," Modrow said last week. "The idea came from the kinds of places I liked to hang out in in college: a mellow spot where everybody’s invited and welcome."
Five years ago, the two opened their establishment on the first floor of a converted house long used as a neighborhood bar, at 2326 K St. Back then, they relied on free help from friends who pitched in on everything from interior design to legal services.
The bar with the big front porch became popular. The crowd grew from the official capacity of 49 to 150. Clients loved the place. But not everyone liked how popular the bar became.
Authorities cracked down on The Golden Bear for fire code violations and other problems. So now, the bar is halfway through a renovation designed to address the problems and allow for 150-person capacity, as well as make the place more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, said Bazett.
The back half of the bar, which contains the kitchen, bathrooms and an enclosed, covered back patio, is undergoing a complete remodel. The place had two exits — the front door and a back gate. A fire exit and sprinklers have been added.
The kitchen and bathrooms are doubling in size. Bathrooms will have Italian glass sinks and glass tiles, and offer more room for customers in wheelchairs, Bazett said. A wheelchair-accessible ramp was added in front. A pizza oven that lacked mechanical ventilation was replaced with a pannini flat-press.
"The finish will be night and day," Bazett said.
The remodel is expected to be completed by the end of January. The gray walls and lime-green accents in the front main room will be repainted in earth tones. The bubble lights over the 20-foot white Corian bar will be replaced.
In back, the metal roof will be replaced with a real roof featuring skylights and fire-rated walls, which can help slow a fire from spreading outside the building, will replace the fence enclosure. The roof and walls are designed to be more fire-safe and to muffle sound. Custom benches will be added.
The remodel — and the entire business — are the work of two owners with almost opposite personalities. Modrow, 30, is a six-foot-tall, self-described "Euromutt" with a reddish beard. He makes friends easily and is an extremely organized bookkeeper who fills the office with vast amounts of paper.
"One of our bartenders saw it (the office) and likened it to a nest. He said Jon was building a nest because there was so much paper," Bazett said. "But that’s part of being thorough. I don’t worry about his calculations being off or getting audited because I know he has such a thorough paper trail."
Bazett, 31, is Japanese-American with Hawaiian roots on his mother’s side. He had extensive experience working at restaurants and bars before opening The Golden Bear. Modrow called Bazett the "face" of the business, a "stand-up individual who volunteers as a court advocate for foster children."
Bazett describes himself as reserved and "fly-by-night," but getting more organized with help from his Blackberry phone.
"I definitely have to warm up to people," Bazett said. "He’s more a warm, open book. He’s friends with you in less than five minutes."
Even their snow sport choices — skis versus snowboard — speak to their opposite personalities, Bazett said.
"It’s like a cat person and a dog person," he added.
Laughing, Modrow agreed the two are opposites.
"I can grow a lot of facial hair. He has a hard time growing facial hair," Modrow joked. "I value that about him a lot. When summertime hits, I get really hot. Maybe I’m more adaptive to the winter, but you can’t say one is better than the other."
Their complementary personalities help make The Golden Bear a success, Bazett said.
He is concerned with hospitality: making sure the bar is stocked with amenities such as a wide range of liquor, a "palatable selection of wine at good value," nice hand soap, kosher salt. He keeps the temperature comfortable and the Bloody Mary hot sauce hot, he said.
Modrow’s "personal mission" is to make people feel welcome, Bazett said.
The bar’s name is a "California pride" thing, because California is the Golden State and the bear is the state animal, said Modrow, citing the golden bear statues outside the state fairgrounds at Cal Expo.
"We’ve tried to steal those a number of times, but we’ve always been unsuccessful," he said.
Photos by Suzanne Hurt, a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.