By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected].com
John Jarecki, operating partner at Light Horse, wanted patrons of the new Dining Bar to be surprised, from the time they walk into the door to when it’s time to pay the check.
The first floor Dining Bar, which opens to the public on Monday, has a distinctly different feel than the upstairs bar, which has remained unchanged. Jarecki said the upstairs bar has a regular crowd and is popular with locals, but, since opening Light Horse a decade ago, he realized that the first floor space wasn’t getting the foot traffic it should.
“It always just did OK, but it was really overshadowed by the upstairs. So I started thinking a couple of years ago ‘Maybe I need to make a switch,'” Jarecki said. “It didn’t feel like I was getting the revenue I should from a first floor on King Street location. I started putting it into motion by asking ‘What are the trends? How are people dining?'”
Jarecki has a track record with restaurants, having worked with Neighborhood Restaurant Group to open Vermilion, Rustico and the now closed Tallula. He said, through that experience and through his experience as owner of Light Horse, he noticed a distinct trend.
“I noticed that people were tending to shy away from going to spend that $20, $25 at Applebee’s or Chili’s and instead going to sit at a bar to get an excellent, chef-driven meal, and a craft cocktail or a craft beer. We always had an easy time filling out our high top bar seating, whereas in other restaurants you really have to work to get that commitment to a dinner.”
He decided to go in that direction with Dining Bar, making it a casual dining stop with a full dinner menu, craft cocktails and craft beer at a lower price point than many of King Street’s upscale dining destinations.
“We’re really just trying to appeal to that diner who still has the taste, and still appreciates fine food, but wants that casual style,” Jarecki said.
The space is open and the decor is rustic, with mantles acting as bar shelves and homey decor like wreathes and old windows mounted on the wall.
The food and drink menus are also designed to be approachable, but still chef-driven, with everything from burgers to cast iron duck to braised lamb ragout. The price point for entrees is $9 to $27. Desserts all run for $7 and choices include a housemade ice cream sandwich, an ice cream float, an apple tarte a la mode and candied bacon.
The menu was designed by Consulting Chef Chafik Hocine, who is French-Algerian. Jarecki said everything on the menu is made fresh in house whenever possible and that the restaurant works with local farms to get ingredients.
The bar is, meanwhile, led by Chris Hyman. The cocktail menu has a sense of humor, and selections are divided into “fancy” and “fun” categories. “Fancy” cocktails include traditional refreshments like an old fashioned, sidecar and Manhattan, while the “fun” menu includes the Pixie Rainbow Fancy Bubbles, which is made with edible glitter, a house-made flavored sugar cube, bubbly and Green Hat gin, and a Black Betty, a special cocktail that can only be ordered after midnight and is limited to two per customer.
Jarecki said, ultimately, the cocktail list is meant to be fun, while still appealing to the craft cocktail nerds.
“I noticed a few years ago that once craft cocktails got really big that maybe we were taking ourselves a little too seriously,” Jarecki said. “You get judged by the bartender and the guests and they’ve got some sort of crazy mustache or facial hair. It’s a weird rite that you’re going through now to get a cocktail, and I always felt that going out should be fun.”
The central focal point of the eatery is its bar top, which is wood with a winding blue pattern that looks like the aerial view of a river. It was created through fractal lichtenberg, which involves putting a nail into wood and electrifying it, creating patterns as the electricity moves through the wood. The cracks created by the process were filled with a bioluminescent powder, meaning that shining a bright light will make the blue areas glow.
“It’s meant to be a conversation starter,” Jarecki said. “I didn’t want it to be a night club glowing thing – I wanted it to be kind of fun and natural.”
The Dining Bar opens on Monday for dinner, which will be served from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The late night menu will be served from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. The Dining Bar plans to debut lunch and brunch in mid-October. Happy hour will be Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and will offer guests $4 draft beers and house wines, $4 rail drinks, $1 off bottled beer and a rotating selection of special dishes, priced $5 to $7.
The upstairs bar will be open for its regular hours.