An extra buck: The Lodge to add glamor to Chippewa - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 06, 2013 @ 9:40am
What’s considered irony in Orlando should be a snug fit for Buffalo.
This October, Buffalo’s Chippewa Street Entertainment District will welcome The Lodge, a $1.2 million, 6,000 sq. foot restaurant-bar at 79 West Chippewa St., the space formerly occupied by Bayou Nightclub and McMonkeez.
A Grand Unveil Gala, however, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at the restaurant, and tickets are available for $49.99 through Showclix.com here.
Admission includes the chance to sample signature menu items, live entertainment from party band Something Else, three drink tickets for everything except ultra-premium spirits and an opportunity to check out a new upscale restaurant-bar before the rest of the public.
The Lodge has tentative plans for a soft opening not long after the gala with an official launch date coming sometime in early October.
The project of former Bayou owner Adam March, Buffalo Bar Crawl founder Peter Altholz and former Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises boat tour captain Neil Kapoor nears fruition after nearly 10 months of renovation—Bayou closed in November 2012—and The Lodge’s concept is a vast departure from the previous business.
The story begins in September 2012 with the recognition that Bayou was struggling financially. March and Dan Valentine, owners of the property that also includes Lux Nightclub and 67 West, connected with Altholz, bringing on the organized bar crawl entrepreneur for marketing and promotion purposes, but also to consider more profitable alternatives for the future.
Before Bayou shut its doors, Altholz pitched an idea that had arisen from the expansion of his other business.
His Buffalo Bar Crawl had evolved to include five outings per year with roughly 4,000 partiers at each, and he’d instituted the same concept in Rochester with improving results.
A wise online domain investor, Altholz—through the moniker “Best of Buffalo Promotions”—had purchased over 40 web addresses that followed this format: [insert major city] barcrawl.com.
A profitable enterprise, Altholz traveled to Orlando to meet with an interested party there. In his free time, the Westchester-born, former UB marketing student crowd-sourced local Orlando bars, and he was pointed to a dive called The Lodge.
It wasn’t the layout, interior design or bar specials that piqued Altholz’s curiosity—instead, he appreciated how The Lodge “juxtaposed” balmy Orlando with a cozy, woodsy concept.
Altholz had no intention of mimicking the specifics of the ironic Orlando part-dive bar, part-nightclub—which didn’t serve food—but he brought the concept up to March and Valentine to measure their response.
“The idea of a lodge is an oasis from the elements—think of a ski lodge,” Altholz explained. “It’s a place where you can drink and warm up—it’s a comfortable place to be. Buffalo is obviously a tundra for more than half the year, so the Lodge could be a shelter from the weather, or even an oasis from city living.”
Receptive to the idea, March encouraged the process and allowed Altholz to bring on Neil Kapoor, a close friend who’d recently helped Elmwood’s Savoy grow as a watering hole.
This connection spurred Neil Kapoor to entrust the design expertise of his cousin, now New York City-based Rohit Kapoor, to the new Chippewa project.
As partners, ideas and standards rose, so did the cost of the project.
Originally intended to be a $150,000 to $200,000 party bar, the Lodge morphed into a $1.2 million undertaking—with an obsessive attention to detail, a willingness to indulge expensive tastes and a mildly surprising emphasis on local products.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from The Lodge:
The Food: Although his son’s leukemia diagnosis drew head chef Fortune Macri to Buffalo, the esteemed chef—who took orders from Bobby Flay and Charlie Palmer while in New York City—has found his footing at The Lodge, spurring a “Bold American” menu that’s both extensive and diverse.
Altholz hinted that the fare would highlight Asian and Latin American influences—with specialties including chili rellenos, fish tacos, Seoul City short ribs and stir-fried lettuce wraps as small plates. Perhaps the slider trio is the most compelling of the appetizer list, as bison and crabcake represent more aggressive slider choices.
Highlighting the dinner menu is prime cuts of meat—filet mignon and a veal shank, Altholz hinted—and other mainstays include croque monsieur, mussels and frites, and Macri’s own chicken-fried chicken sandwich that’s a Buffalo-influenced play on chicken and waffles.
A pescatarian himself, Altholz noted that there will be at least two or three items on the menu to satisfy vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free eaters and others with special dietary needs.
“It’s frustrating when you visit a restaurant and, because of your diet, you’re left with one option,” he said.
In addition to paperback menus, each dinner table will be equipped with an iPad menu that allows customers to scroll through food options and view photos before ordering.
Servers will carry iPads of their own, allowing them to immediately order drinks for customers from the bar, swipe for the table’s bill and even contact the valet parking service to retrieve the customers’ vehicles upon completion of the meal.
The Design: When I mentioned that no expense was spared in assembling The Lodge, I meant it. Rohit Kapoor—who’s been hired to design events for Porsche, Microsoft and Facebook—approached the great outdoors concept with aggression, designing a massive forest-like visual behind the bar, stump-laden walls in the entrance, rock outcroppings on the second level as well as a meticulous arctic lounge.
The owners called upon local artists to fulfill some of the design demands. Crystal Dickey, a connection of March’s, crafted the American flags just beyond the west entrance in addition to several smaller nature-themed selections on the second floor.
Buffalo artist Dave Koszka handled the treeline wrap on The Lodge’s windows facing the street as well as the mural of mythical creatures—which appear to be angry horned bears—in the middle of the stairwell.
Jeffrey Proctor—a local videographer—was called upon to orchestrate much of the video and electronic demands, including the five interconnected flat-screen TVs that can function separately or as one uber-long TV.
The lighting behind the bar is remarkably customizable as well, lending a vague connection to Seabar’s avant-garde approach. $70,000 was apportioned to this intricate lighting project completed by Brian Tovar’s Ionic Design Group out of New York City.
If you scroll to the bottom of this article, you’ll see a piece of artwork comprising three columns of red and yellow trees created by Angola-based artist Shawn Huntington, whose work was on display at the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts earlier this summer.
Extra money was spent on the bar’s construction, too, which tapers off at the back end to make it appear longer.
The Nightlife: Altholz drew attention to a small stage and projector that sits with its back to Chippewa Street, situated between the two entrances.
While he doesn’t foresee a nightclub atmosphere, the owner is excited to have local bands or DJs to enliven the post-dinner hours.
Expect co-owner Neil Kapoor to have sway behind the bar, as he helped develop the cocktail menu at Savoy.
Beers on tap aren’t your typical domestics, either—Founder’s, Victory HopDevil Ale, Ommegang Rare Vos as well as locals Flying Bison and Southern Tier.
Altholz explained that The Lodge would boast 10 unique cocktails with an emphasis on fresh squeezed juices.
The Entertainment: There’s no shortage of game options on the second level—every bar called The Lodge ought to have Big Buck Hunter, and the Chippewa version will be no different.
Bubble hockey, air hockey, Skee-Ball and a pool table are clustered in the rear of the second floor, set apart from the intimate downstairs dining area so one experience doesn’t interfere with the other.
The District: From an Eeyore perspective, The Lodge has the potential to be a glimmer of hope amid a grim party district with a far-from-rosy future.
The desire for progress in the district—or at least a yearning for some hint of revival—is apparent from the 5,500 Facebook fans who swarmed to like The Lodge’s page.
“Buffalo’s ready to raise the bar for expectations,” Altholz said. “[The district] has hit rock bottom and is on the upswing. Look at how Bacchus, Papaya and The Chocolate Bar are doing, and I think Soho Burger Bar and Bada Bing are starting to see the potential of Chippewa.”