Stop in and get a virtual hug at Larchmere’s UnBAR Café

UnBAR Café has been bustling with activity ever since Melissa Garrett opened the doors to her health-conscious hybrid coffee and entertainment spot Jan. 20 at 12635 Larchmere Blvd.

Garrett has dreamed of opening UnBAR as a place that has all the fun and socialization of a traditional bar, but without the hangover that comes with alcohol. Instead, she serves coffee drinks, mocktails, smoothies, and lighter healthy fare—all in a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere.

“My intentions were to create a space where you walk through the door and you get a virtual hug,” she says. “I wanted to create an environment where you feel safe.”

Although Garrett does not serve alcohol—in keeping with her motto “think better, feel better, be better” and following the trend in “teetotaler” mentalities to pursue healthy living—she has hired a mixologist who specializes in nonalcoholic beverages.

Garrett is also soliciting customer feedback as she implements her permanent food menu. She won’t decided on permanent operating hours until she gets more customer feedback (right now, the hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Mondays).

“I want to give the community what they want,” she says. “Even with the menu, [someone came in and said] I need a good soup. We’re going to look at our feedback and start implementing some of these things.”

Garrett has 30 years of corporate experience and continues to work downtown in the financial goods and services field. Her son, Rorry, has been managing UnBAR while Garrett is at work.

Garrett acquired a 3,000-square-foot complex last March and in April started remodeling the space. One half is dedicated to the cafe, while the other half serves as a mixed-use space that includes the wellness-focused yoga and movement studio Nola Movement’s permanent home.

Garret restored the original maple hardwood floors, created two ADA accessible bathrooms, and installed new drywall, bright lighting, and electrical systems. The walls are painted in calming colors that evoke a peaceful feeling of serenity, she says. “There’s no pretense. I think it’s super trendy and upscale. It’s super clean, but high energy.”

When Nola Movement is not in session on the mixed-use side of the building, Garrett plans to offer game nights, karaoke, poetry nights and book clubs, among other social activities. She says a group of nine female authors is scheduled to come speak this spring.

Game Day will kick off in mid-February with board games, and beginning Sunday, March 1, Squash the Beef will serve pop-up Sunday brunches, featuring their vegan comfort food. Garrett also says she’s looking forward to Larchmere PorchFest on Saturday, June 20.

While choosing her décor, Garrett went shopping along Larchmere Boulevard—to both get to know her neighbors and find perfect items to make the café her own. “I went to each merchant on the street and purchased an item,” she says.

Garrett bought antique bronze bookends, antique wooden bowls, candles and crystals, and maps to create a travel theme in one section of the café (she even found a vintage American Airlines stewardess bag for the travel theme area).

Aside from locating in the ideal neighborhood for scoring these unique items, Garrett says it was a good way to introduce herself to her new neighbors.

“For me, it’s been a real community pull,” she says. “I spent a lot of time getting to know the community and assess what people need and want, because Larchmere is super eclectic and artsy.”

While UnBAR may be eclectic, it also provides the atmosphere Garrett was going for. “I was very deliberate,” she says. “Everywhere you look, you’ll see something positive. The art is positive.” And most of the other Larchmere merchants stopped in on opening day to wish her well, she says.

So far, it seems that all of Garrett’s customers are getting that virtual hug when they come to UnBAR.

She recalls one older man she met one day when she arrived at the café after a long day at the office. She spent more than half an hour talking with him.

“He’s 84, and he has an amazing life path,” she says. “When he finished, he said, ‘I usually go to Phoenix [Coffee], but this is my new spot.’ The stuff he shared with me, I’ll never repeat.”

Garrett wants to continue that confidence. “It’s been happening a lot,” she says of her new customers. "This is what I wanted, this what I asked for. If it’s working, it’s good, and we’re going to just keep expanding.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.