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New owners of Jackpot Music Hall fulfill life-long dream

Apr 14, 2012 – 12:00am

Alex Garrison

Husband and wife Eric Berman and Darla Kubala took over ownership of the Jackpot Saloon in early December. The couple previously ran a bar in San Francisco before coming to Kansas.

They’re a mom and pop operation, through and through.

Husband and wife team Eric Berman and Darla Kubala took over running the Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass., in December.

They’re a long way from their previous bar — a place called Tempest in San Francisco — but they’re happy to call Kansas home. It’s a story of a downtown business that was “just dive enough” for an energetic, maybe slightly hippie, bartender known as “Jayhawk.” And it’s a story of a couple’s dream to run a bar together that’s 20 years in the making, as long as they’ve been together.

Berman lived in Lawrence from 1974 to 1985, moving around a lot and working on and off in social services. He left Kansas and moved to California, eventually running his own bar and restaurant. But, he says, it was always his intention to come back to raise his now 13-year-old son and to be close to his aging father.

But Kubala was reluctant. “I’m not the girl for you if this is where you want to be,” she says she told Berman during their first visit to Lawrence early in their relationship. No matter. He’d wait. “He was hellbent,” she says.

In fall 2008, they made another trip. After a long walk to Memorial Stadium, they were hot and sweaty — not in the greatest of moods. But something about seeing the Kansas University marching band sparked a seed of change in Kubala’s mind.

“The people were so fabulous,” she says. “I said to him, ‘Wow, maybe I could be a part of this.’”

So they began looking for houses in Lawrence, and they began looking for bars.

The Bottleneck, 737 N.H., was looking for new management at the time, but Berman says he heard “through the grapevine” that a little bar and music venue called the Jackpot might just “be just dive enough” to be a perfect fit.

He says the negotiations with the owner, who also owns the Replay Lounge, 946 Mass., went well and that they still work together. Berman took the keys Dec. 6. He knew what he was getting himself into. Kind of.

“The bar business is something we know,” he says. “Lawrence is something I know but I don’t know — there’s been an awful lot of changes.”

He didn’t know the business climate in his time here in the ’70s and ’80s but he does know a lot of the businesses that were here are no more. And the mom and pop bar operation had never really done music.

When Berman talks about that last issue, he can get flustered. Rumors, he says, came out in social media he doesn’t quite understand that said he’d be changing the Jackpot, long known for bringing in national and high-profile local acts, away from its “music hall” roots.

Not so, he says. They’ve kept their booker, Kyle Gowdy, and intend to continue as a venue like before. They’ve just made a few tweaks. Call it bringing the California to Mass. Street.

“We started opening early, put in a pool table, stuff like that,” Berman says. “We just want to entice people to come in and stay.”

So far, so good, at least for the first six months or so. They’re putting in a lot of hours, but getting their feet on the ground — and getting accustomed to the downtown business climate.

“It’s all pretty interconnected — that clothing shop there, this restaurant, my bar, his bar,” he says. “If they’re doing well, we’re doing well, too.”

As Berman settles into the scene, he tells a story that emulates why he’s happy to be back — seeing his son’s teacher while bicycling downtown. It’s a little thing, he’ll admit, but it brings out the differences in people’s friendliness here.

“Lawrence is an oasis — it’s just magical,” he says. “Everyone here knows it.”

Even once-reluctant Kubala’s happy with the lower cost of living, Midwestern hospitality and an independent spirit of running the Jackpot as they see fit.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air, lucky to be here and grateful — it’s terrific for us,” she says.

Berman puts it even more concisely. “It’s good to be home.”

They’re a mom and pop operation, through and through. Husband and wife team Eric Berman and Darla Kubala took over running t

Jackpot Music Hall – Overland Park

943 Massachusetts Street 66044 Lawrence, KS, US (785) 843-2846 www.jackpotlawrence.com/

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