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Suitors Become Owners of the Old/New Wayfarer

The new Wayfarer owners have a long, personal history with the Costa Mesa music and dining venue that they hope to build on.

Justin and Courtney Suitor are the new owners of The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa. Photo courtesy of The Wayfarer
 

The site of The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa holds many memories and a lot of history for local musicians and music fans. 


For the latest owners of this iconic music and dining venue – Justin and Courtney Suitor –those memories and history are extremely personal. They, in fact, began their relationship at Detroit Bar – the venue’s previous name – in the early 2000s. Now they own the venue, which first opened as the Detroit Bar in 2001. The couple took over ownership of The Wayfarer in August 2023.


Justin and Courtney Suitor began their relationship at Detroit Bar in the early 2000s. Photo courtesy of The Wayfarer

“My personal history with The Wayfarer goes back to when it was called Detroit Bar,” Justin said. “I first started going there to sing karaoke on Sunday nights and over time became a regular whose band often played there. I worked there for a brief period as a sound engineer and continued to hang out there for the last 15 years and watched the change in ownership from the Detroit Bar to The Wayfarer. I have seen many great artists perform on that stage and the room itself has been an inspiration to me to further my artistic and musical goals in most of my adult life.”


Supporting emerging bands has played a large role in the venue’s history, and it’s something the Suitors plan to continue. But they also want to focus on an enhanced dining experience.


“Before we took over in August, I had never eaten there before,” Courtney said. “I was actually shocked to learn that the prior owner had decided to put in a kitchen and serve food when he opened The Wayfarer and hadn’t had a chance to try it yet. I was excited to find that the food is really good and the kitchen staff are amazing at what they do. We were thrilled to keep the head chef on and I have genuinely enjoyed working with him on creating new menu items and thematic specials to accompany shows.”


PHOTO 1: Entrees at The Wayfarer are served with tots. PHOTO 2: The specialty drink menu currently includes two margaritas with a Tajin rim. Photos courtesy of The Wayfarer


The Wayfarer’s Evolution 

Before The Wayfarer opened as Detroit Bar in 2001, it was dive bar Club Mesa. The Memphis Group purchased the location and turned it into Detroit Bar and ran it as a concert venue until 2014, when restauranteur Jeff Chon purchased it and renamed it The Wayfarer. Justin said the previous owner performed a pretty extensive remodel, moving the bar and some walls, and added the kitchen. 


“The Detroit Bar didn’t have a kitchen or serve food, their focus was much more on music,” Courtney said. “The owner before us, who purchased the venue and converted it to The Wayfarer had a much bigger focus on food, and less on the music. I think we have a very special opportunity to do both. We are a restaurant and local bar but we are also a music venue. There are not very many places where you can come in one night for tacos and trivia and come in the next night to see a national touring act. Having the opportunity to do both is living the best of both worlds.”


Detroit Bar developed a reputation for not only boosting up-and-coming local bands, but also attracting big names like Stereolab. 


Greta Valenti, vocalist and songwriter for Orange County-based roots rock band, Beaux Gris Gris and The Apocalypse, and founder and owner of O.C.-based creative agency and record label, Grow Vision, has been playing at the venue through various bands since it was Detroit Bar. She played there again recently on June 1 for her band’s new album release show.


Live music is a big part of the entertainment experience at The Wayfarer. Emerging and bigger bands have played over the years at the venue. Photos courtesy of The Wayfarer

 

“I've known it since the Club Mesa days before even Detroit Bar. It's one of those iconic spots and really one of the last independently owned venues in all of Orange County,” sheValenti said. “It's pretty iconic and so many amazing people have played there. Just for my own festivals that our self-run creative agency and record label, Grow Vision, produced or co-produced with L.A. promoters HazyChaos – we had Alice Bag, Tre Cool from Green Day, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Joyous Wolf, Them Evils and many more. It's an iconic spot.”


She said The Wayfarer has helped musicians and bands be seen and heard in an area where it isn’t always easy to find venues.


“When you're in bands in Southern California, it's so hard to find venues that will give you a shot. And even harder to find venues that will be fair and actually pay you. And not try to make you pay to play — which means give them $1,000 or so before you play the show, aka ‘pre-buy’ the tickets and then you have to sell them on your own, which I think should be illegal,” Valenti said. “So when you get a venue like The Wayfarer that is honest, and is helping bands grow from being an opener to a headliner and hopefully selling out a 250-capacity room, that's huge. We tour in the U.K. and Europe a lot because over there, this is how they do business and it makes it possible to grow.


“The Wayfarer is the one staple in Orange County. I've seen bands and myself grow from nothing to headliners. I've seen huge acts in this intimate venue. I've seen things like the OC Music Awards, mini-festivals like Feedback Fest and Woman of Horror sell over 400 tickets and really bring the community together. I've seen metal bands, country acts, glam rock and punk shows, literally every genre of music at The Wayfarer.” 



A Personal Mission

Courtney said she started working at the Detroit Bar as a door cashier shortly after turning 21. When a bartending position opened up, she was hired and worked there for about five years. 


“I worked Sunday Karaoke every week, which was super fun because most of the regular customers were local artists that also played there regularly — including Justin, which is how we initially met,” she said. “After I left, it became The Wayfarer shortly thereafter, but it remained my regular late-night hangout after work or where Justin and I would end up on a date night.”


In fact, Justin proposed to Courtney onstage at The Wayfarer in 2015. 


PHOTO 1: Courtney Suitor worked as a bartender at the Detroit Bar for about five years. PHOTO 2: Justin Suitor first started going to Detroit Bar to sing karaoke and eventually became a regular with his band. PHOTO 3: Justin Suitor proposed to Courtney at The Wayfarer in 2015. Photos courtesy of The Wayfarer

 

When Courtney left the Detroit Bar in 2011, she opened The Observatory in Santa Ana as a managing partner. She worked various roles in upper management there until it was sold to Live Nation in 2019. 


“Courtney and I had been whimsically joking about making an offer on The Wayfarer for years prior and when we found out that it was actually for sale we knew we had to jump on it,” Justin said. “I think that we were already mentally prepared because of how much we had already imagined ourselves as the owners.”


Courtney said when they found out about the opportunity to buy The Wayfarer, they couldn’t say no.


“It was very serendipitous like our imaginings had manifested something we logically thought would never happen,” she said. “We also felt like we had to be the ones to do it because if someone else bought it and changed too much, our iconic place would be gone.”


Their vision for the future of The Wayfarer includes keeping traditions alive while adding some improvements. For the menu, Courtney said she’d eventually like to incorporate some seasonal specials and specialty cocktails and eventually add a brunch. 


In terms of music, Justin said they definitely plan to work with both local and national acts.


“Our capacity provides a very intimate experience where you will often see bands that are on their way up the charts and will soon be heard on the radio, if they aren’t already,” he said. “We can support our Orange County music scene by adding local openers to these shows and helping building bands up to that level by providing a stage to be seen on. We are continuing a tradition that has held since the Detroit Bar days of having a Monday night residency where each month a different local band takes over the calendar and books other up-and-coming local bands to open for them and is a showcase of local talent. We have just as many of our weekend nights devoted to bigger local acts as we do national tours.”



Detroit Bar became The Wayfarer in 2014. Along with music, the venue includes pool tables, food and a full bar.

Photos courtesy of The Wayfarer

 

And they have other entertainment planned, including the long-running karaoke. 


“Yes, karaoke is a time-honored tradition that will absolutely stay. I don’t think there are very many other venues where you can sing karaoke on a stage that also hosts famous musicians on a real sound system and it is definitely a different experience,” Courtney said. 


“Trivia was something that started a few years ago with the prior owners and we are told really came into its own during the pandemic. I think it is one of our best nights, especially if you’re looking for the neighborhood bar kind of vibe with $3 taco specials and free pool. Some of the fun nights we have introduced are Paint N Sip, which I thoroughly enjoy coming to, and our Line Dancing Country Night that just started up and is gaining quite a bit of momentum as well. We also have a late-night ‘90s cover band play every Friday called Sega Genecide and it is by far our biggest night and always a good time.”


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