How did 12 friends who worked together at an Ohio chain restaurant specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches and beer come to open a Viking-themed bar in Cleveland? Simple. “We built this bar so we had a cool place to drink,” says owner and operator Eric Ho.
And he does mean “built.” With support from family and friends, the initial players (Ho, Merandia Adkins, John Gibian, Cory Miess and Vinny Salls) created a business plan, got a lease and procured the starting capital. They then spent the next 13 months demolishing the space and rebuilding it from the bottom up. As bartender and owner Gibian recalls about his friends—self-proclaimed geeks with a propensity for loud music and Scandinavian lore—“we screwed stuff into the walls while talking about Norse mythology books we had read.”
LBM team, clockwise from top right: Vinny Salls, Eric Ho, Cory Miess, Merandia Adkins and John Gibian (image: Jimmy Bacha)
LBM opened fall of 2017, a 45-seat casual neighborhood cocktail bar with a lively atmosphere, heavy metal music and an old Norse feel. The bar top, backbar shelves and communal table are sourced from a Sycamore tree from southern Ohio. The group built most of the dining room furniture, server station and host stand using scrap wood, mostly for budgetary reason, says Ho. But their design and finish seamlessly tie in with the concept.
The most striking design element are the lights suspended from the ceiling, comprised of a strip of LED tape and frosted acrylic to help disperse the light, which serve a dual purpose, says Ho. “[They] aid in breaking up sound since we have tenants above us and they knew we would be playing really loud music, but aesthetically they add an ethereal vibe.” Order a round of shots, and they’ll come out in a flip-top Viking helmet. And you just may happen to see random hand weapons like axes randomly strewn around.
Lest you think LBM is just a kitschy bar with a gimmick capitalizing on the success of “Game of Thrones,” the theme stops at the contemporary, seasonally focused cocktail list, which doesn’t beat guests over the head with battle references or “GoT” characters.
Battle Hardened is the house cocktails section of the menu and features drinks like the Blood Eagle, with roasted-beet-infused Broker’s gin, Averna amaro, Campari, and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. The Gunslinger 2.1 (available by the glass or bowl) has Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon, ginger orange syrup, lemon and ginger beer. The Gust of a Thousand Winds is what LBM bartenders refer to as a “bang” cocktail, as in one flavor with three different iterations (i.e. “bang, bang, bang.”). In this instance, it’s grape: Nardini grappa, Macchu pisco and verjus blanc, which are shaken with honey. And cocktails like the Siren’s Wail let you step out of your comfort zone with an ingredient like syrup made with charred persimmons; the rest of the recipe includes Hayman’s Royal Dock Navy-strength gin, allspice dram, crème de cacao, lemon and orange bitters.
Gust of a Thousand Winds (image: John Gibian)
Most surprising, however, is how well-received the food has been, thanks to executive chef Miess. Guests and local critics beam over the curried cauliflower with kale, golden raisins, pumpkin, shallots and garlic; the hoisin-braised pork belly with spicy pickled vegetables; and the utterly addictive potato croquettes with portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, smoked gouda and roasted onion dipping sauce.
Being friends and business partners doesn’t come without its challenges, says Gibian. “We’re all a bunch of sadistic antagonists who know how to push each other’s buttons.” Still, he says, it’s the family that they chose.
Siren’s Wail (image: John Gibian)
As for what LBM stands for, a quick Google search leads mostly to a gastrointestinal affliction. Gibian says that since the bar opened only around 20 people have correctly guessed the acronym’s meaning, and they have kept it a closely guarded secret.
“It’s still a mystery we’re having fun with,” he says. “LBM will always be LBM, regardless of whether you know what it stands for. It doesn’t change who or what we are.”