EG native Zach Flanders persevered through the pandemic to open the cocktail bar
By the end of 2019, things were looking pretty good for Low Key, the Main Street cocktail bar envisioned by Zach Flanders. He’d gotten the necessary zoning approvals and a conditional liquor license. But then his partner moved to Florida, COVID hit, and everything stopped.
During the ensuing months, Flanders had to return to the Town Council twice to get the liquor license extended. When the pandemic situation improved, construction on the new space resumed, albeit slowly.
“Supply chains because of COVID have been really bad,” he said. “I waited months and months for furniture and all sorts of things. We just got the soda guns in now – we waited months for that. But its coming together. I’ve got an amazing group of people. I’ve had amazing support from my friends and family.”
Flanders opened Low Key in late August. The cocktail bar has been a late-night hit, particularly with the younger crowd. Flanders said he’s grateful for the buzz but wants people of all ages to know they are welcome at Low Key.
Flanders got interested in the nightlife space after spending a few years in finance in New York City. After that, he was behind a couple of online event bulletin boards, one based in Rhode Island and then GoingOut.com in Boston.
He went back to finance in Rhode Island for awhile, then worked on the campaign for his father – retired state Supreme Court Justice Bob Flanders – who ran for U.S. Senate unsuccessfully against Sheldon Whitehouse in 2018.
“I love challenges and interesting things … I feel you should try different things that scare you and you haven’t done before,” said Flanders. “That was kind of my thinking with this. I liked the space. It’s right in the middle of Main Street and it had been boarded up for a long time.”
Today, light panels on the ceiling over the bar and on the wall draw people in, especially after the sun goes down.
“It brings me so much pleasure to see people’s mouths drop and say, ‘Whoa, that’s so cool!’” he said of the reaction many people give when they walk up.
Right now, Flanders said, the focus is on cocktails – tequila drinks are popular – but he is looking to develop a tapas-type menu of small plates.
“The way I thought about it was it could fill a space that East Greenwich was missing – an upscale place where people can have fun that wasn’t on the water,” he said. “When the waterfront shuts down, people still want a fun atmosphere and I thought we could do that while also having an eclectic mix of small plates. I didn’t want to compete directly with the great restaurants on the street. I wanted to complement them, a place to go before or after, or if they didn’t want a big meal.”
He credits Bill LaLiberty (a profit-sharing partner) and Joseph Ehrhard with helping whip the bar into shape. “Where I was lacking in making the drinks and, really, the structure of how the bar should be run, they’ve been a wonderful complement in getting that done and they’ve helped me build a great team,” he said.
So far, it’s been a great experience. “I knew it would be a lot of work but the team that I have has shouldered a lot as well. The stress of not opening and not knowing when, that was hard,” he said. “This part has been pretty fun.”
Low Key is holding a grand opening Friday, Sept. 24, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.