The HandleBar: A Pensacola Landmark
Kathy Sandstrom and her husband Chris McKean have strong ties to The Handlebar, the iconic downtown Pensacola watering hole and eclectic music venue. The couple, along with partner Robert Goodspeed, purchased the local landmark in 2019 after a series of events caused it to close its doors late in 2018. Each of the three partners has a long history with The Handlebar – both McKean and Goodspeed played with their own bands at the bar, and Sandstrom was a patron back in its heyday. In 2019, Sandstrom made the decision to purchase the property, in hopes of flipping it, but members of the community urged her to restore the building and reopen a beloved venue.
The timing was perfect for the couple – Sandstrom had just retired from a career with a Chicago investment firm, and they had returned to their hometown. Initially, they perceived the purchase purely as a business transaction and intended to sell the real estate. Community support, combined with fond personal memories, however, convinced the team to bring back the popular gathering spot and make it once again a home for music and musicians and the people who love live music of all kinds. The physical renovation was extensive, adding air conditioning, upgrading and adding restrooms, expanding the offerings from just beer and wine to a full bar, featuring local and imported beers, and a select wine list. “We have also partnered with a permanent food truck, Sauce Boss, which is on-site seven days a week,” says Sandstrom. “The presence of the food truck allows us to devote all our focus on the music.”
The Handlebar has always been – and still is – a part of history for the music community in Pensacola. “Our clientele is composed of locals – folks who love live music,” says Goodspeed. “We specifically try to host music and musicians from all genres so the ‘regulars’ vary from night to night. We feature punks, alternatives, country, singer-songwriters and more, so the audience varies with the offerings.” The venue has, however, begun to offer some complementary events on and off the property, ranging from our annual Vintage Market, and several off-site musical events and festivals. “Recently, we hosted the Rusty Knuckle Torque Club promoting their Rusty Relic Revival, a unique auto show,” McKean notes. “We had a great showing with over fifty vintage vehicles on display on Tarragona Street, nonstop live music inside the bar, and a great turnout. We plan to make this an annual event.”
Other events include the annual Vintage Street Market, which takes place in October and features forty or more vendors selling vintage treasures, along with food trucks and continuous live music. “This yearly event is great fun, for collectors and music lovers alike,” says Sandstrom. “We also sponsored the Night Moves Fest in November as part of Foo Foo Fest Programming, and we hope to make this an annual thing as well.”
The new and much-improved Handlebar benefitted from a complete makeover, which includes an expanded outdoor courtyard with more seating and a brand-new feel. It also offers a comprehensive website (thehandlebar850.com) that features a complete list of upcoming events, including the ability to purchase tickets online. In addition, it is possible to follow on Facebook, and @TheHandlebar850 on Instagram for show updates and additions.
319 Tarragona Street
Pensacola FL 32502