First opening on New Year's Eve 1996, co-owner Scott Craig describes Akbar as a “neighborhood bar and clubhouse with a proud rainbow flag in front.” Opening right after the AIDS epidemic was at its most brutal force, the owners felt that, at the time, the stigmas and fear in place meant more isolation for the gay community, but they wanted to change that. “There were bars in the neighborhood, there were gay bars in the neighborhood, there were straight bars, but there was not a bar where us and our mix of friends, which are straight and gay, could go together. So we decided to open a bar for us,” says co-owner Peter Alexander.
In 1995, after consulting with quite a few friends who told him what it was like to own a bar, Craig walked into Joly’s #2, an old gay piano bar at the corner of Sunset and Fountain. Both the bar and the piano inside it were on their last legs.
“I went in and went up to the owner of Joly’s #2, and he offered me a figure and I accepted,” says Craig.
On Dec. 12, 1995, Craig got the keys to the place. One of the things he remembers about first entering the bar was the distinct smell he noticed emanating from the piano in the back, where the jukebox and couches were (and still are) located.
“It was a little baby grand piano that smelled of booze and cigarettes, and the keys were slightly out of place,” he recalls.
In 2004, the entire building went up for sale. Craig and Alexander decided to buy it, lest someone eventually price them out of the neighborhood. Once they had the building, they busted through the wall of the adjacent clothing store, where a dance floor had been in a previous iteration known as the Silver Dollar Saloon. During this renovation, they found it odd that the pipes they were uncovering were particularly large. They later discovered the upstairs had been a bathhouse called the Silver Saddle, and the pipes were so big because they were supporting steam rooms and other amenities.