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Bartender Turned Construction Worker Opening Bar in Harlem

By Gustavo Solis | March 31, 2015 4:59pm | Updated on March 31, 2015 7:14pm
 The army veteran is building his own bar on 138th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. 
Claud Fatu
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HARLEM — Bartender turned contractor Claud Fatu has spent the last eight years pouring drinks and renovating businesses for other people. Now he's doing it for himself.

Fatu, an Army veteran who started his own construction company soon after being laid off from bank of America during the 2008 financial crisis, has been crafting the bar Harlem Nights at 138th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard — one detail at a time.

“I’ve always wanted to open a bar,” said Fatu, 33, “It’s going to be the kind of bar I’d like to go to. I want this to be a spot where you walk in and immediately feel comfortable.”

Outside, the place will look like a cabin that you’d find in Maine or the Swiss Alps, he said. There will be large vertical pieces of cedar on the walls, a wooden roof that replaces the awning and small wooden benches by the windows.

The watering hole will feature a mix of craft beers and unique drinks, he said.

Inside, the bar will be filled with cool features including phone chargers built into the walls and a small stage for a baby grand piano that local musicians can use to perform. Fatu has also ripped through layers of walls and floors to expose the building’s original brick walls and white tile floors.

“A lot of times the owners don’t come up with cool features because they don’t know construction,” he said. “It’s great to work for myself as a contractor. I only argue with myself.”

Although the bar isn’t set to open for several months — Fatu hopes to be ready by Memorial Day — it already has a client base.

“A lot of his old customers are looking forward for him to open,” said Rene Suave, 72, who's been friends with Fatu for about eight years. “It’s nice to go to a bar where there’s a familiar face, it makes you feel at home. As soon as you walk into the door he already knows what you want.”

Fatu, who previously lived in the East Village, moved to Harlem last year, right across the street from where the bar will open.

He said he was drawn to the area because it still feels like a neighborhood, the sidewalks are filled with big crowds and people say hello when you walk down the street, he said.

Locals said they're looking forward to the opening.

“People are excited about it,” said Majed Asadi, who works at the deli next door to Harlem Nights. “The last place used to be very loud and there were a lot of fights.”

Harlem local Shaheed Thompson, who didn’t know the place is going to be a bar, was excited when he learned the news.

“That’s great,” he said. “I’m going to be 21 in August.”