Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bistro New Albany to open for business later this month at 148 E. Market Street in downtown New Albany.

On Thursday, I published this story at NA Confidential -- and the result was the second-highest hit count in NAC's 16-month history. As noted then, it's quite possible that I'm more thrilled about this than the people who are putting their money and sweat on the line to make it happen.

Finally – FINALLY – I can make good on my incessant hints, vague whispers and sly innuendo, and very happily provide NA Confidential’s readers with solid information pertaining to the extremely welcome news announced by this inconspicuous sign now posted in the window at 148 E. Market Street.

Yes, it’s true. The Bistro New Albany, a completely new restaurant occupying the now defunct House of Bread floor space and patio, is well on its way to opening for business later this month, perhaps as early as January 16, but as I learned today, looking more like the 23rd.

BNA is the brainchild of Greg Merz (front of the house) and David Clancy (chef), each of whom boasts more than two decades of work at all levels of the food and drink business.

They are understandably enthused about their new venture, and perhaps as importantly to many of us, they are excited about locating in downtown New Albany – not just because they can see the potential, but because, as Steve Earle says, the revolution starts now.

I met Dave for the first time today, but Greg's been coming around Rich O's for a while now. NABC's recent brewing expansion was undertaken at least in part to provide excess capacity that we could use to supply an outside draft beer account somewhere in downtown New Albany, and BNA's the one. Bluegrass Brewing Company (Louisville) will be supplying a couple of taps, and Greg will be rotating the others.

Following are comments written by Greg on a Louisville Restaurant Forum posting late last year. There may be a change here and there, but his description of the then-future project matches our chats in recent days.

1) The concept will be "bistro" style (even though that term has been done to death in American restaurants, it still describes best what we will do). The menu will be influenced by the finest the world -- not one individual cuisine -- has to offer. In starting, our menu will use core, i.e., French and Italian, but with New American touches, ingredients and styles, but we will not be beholden to them, and will indeed grow and expand as appropriate.

2) Food. The Chef has over 20 years in the business, was trained in California, and has considerable experience in Louisville. Again, his menu will attempt to bring interesting, solid (not "fly-by-night") trends from world cuisine to the table at our bistro. The emphasis will be in procuring all we can locally, be it food or beverage. Cheeses will be had from local producers (including, of course, Capriole Farms); coffee will be from a local home roaster; produce will be local whenever possible. Our menu will change every week (approximately 5-10% at the start, more as we gain experience. Reflecting the bistro concept, price points will be from $5-$10 at lunch, and $9-$25 at dinner.

3) Beverages. I am a certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers, so the wine list will be good -- if not very good. Beer will be from excellent local craft brewers like New Albanian Brewing Company and Bluegrass Brewing Company, and will be served on draught in Imperial pints.

Greg told me today that the initial plan is for a six-day-a-week schedule for lunch and dinner, with the bistro closed on Sundays (but with the possibility of Sunday hours at some point in the future).

Here are some interior views of the forthcoming Bistro New Albany. These photos were taken last August, but other than a small bar area, nothing will be changing in the main room.

The nook toward the rear will be configured into a small bar and draft serving station. Greg's and Dave's license is for beer and wine -- no spirits.

The high-ceilinged front room facing market Street and the Little Chef diner is reminiscent of the bistro's past life as bar and restaurant in the New Albany Inn hotel.

Here are two exterior views, first looking west down Market Street, then north up Bank (with the Farmers' Market to the right, and Dave Thrasher's art store just ahead to the right in the Odd Fellows Building):

As will be seen during fair weather, the glory of BNA's location is the outdoor seating garden, accessed through a passageway off Bank Street. The doors lead into the Grand Convention Center.

The outdoor garden is a classic European-style urban nook, and one of the nicest of its kind in the Louisville metro area. During Harvest Homecoming, Greg and I enjoyed an NABC Elector here while listening to live music. Now, instead of one weekend a year, the experience will be available any time the weather's favorable.

Neither of them will approve of my publishing this photograph, but here's a view of Greg (left) and real estate facilitator Mike Kopp (right) following the lease signing, which occurred at Rich O's late in 2005.

You'll be seeing more of Greg when you drink and dine at BNA. Mike likes to fly under the radar, but he is in the top echelon of people in the private sector who presently are making things happen downtown.

Keep reading for more details, and when the time comes, step up and show your support for local excellence. In the coming years, there'll be other unique, destination establishments opening in downtown New Albany as investors and entrepreneurs see the opportunities, and like Greg and Dave, build on the perseverence of today's downtown businessman. The best way to reclaim a share of what is rightfully ours lies not in the big-box excesses of the Clarksville exurb, but in the vision of individuality and quality embodied by these small businessmen with big ideas.

To hell with the pessimists - we're planning on having a sweet, sweet year.

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