Just as savvy chefs find innovative ways to reduce food waste, creative restaurateurs give new life to old places by opening restaurants in reclaimed spaces, serving diners in some unlikely spots such as former banks, churches, and even a jail. Delicious food with a chic side of history? We’ll toast to that!
Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, Austin, Texas
The Seaholm Power Plant powered Austin’s electricity needs for 46 years, and Boiler Nine incorporates some of the structure’s original art deco architecture. “The heat from the fires in the boiler room — now Boiler Room Lounge—would go up the flue through a total of four stories—now Deck Nine Observatory Bar — before being exhausted,” says director of operations Laura Shearer. She adds that the restaurant’s “modern industrial design … is welcoming to nearby neighbors, diners, and imbibers.” Naturally, the menu features grilled items such as brisket or blue cheese-stuffed dates. Make a reservation at Boiler Nine Bar + Grill.
CLINK. – The Liberty Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts
Located inside the former Charles Street Jail, the Liberty Hotel offers several upscale restaurants including CLINK. “The CLINK. dining room features vestiges of original jails cells and an open kitchen, while gold leather seats, butcher block tables, and granite accents add to its contemporary style,” says Glenn Sampert, general manager of The Liberty Hotel. “Inside CLINK., the slate floor outlines the footprint of an original jail cell which was eight by ten feet.” The original jail bars serve as dividers. Make a reservation at CLINK. – The Liberty Hotel.
Crop Bistro, Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland’s United Bank Building opened in 1925 and its nouveau architecture was designed by the same people that planned Severance Hall, the Cleveland Federal Building, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. The building has since reopened as Crop Bistro. “It looks like a regular office building from the outside,” says spokesperson Jen Frimel. “You would have no idea what you’re experiencing until you walk through the door.” Thirty-five-foot coffered ceilings, original murals of Cleveland’s West Side Market (where the restaurant sources many of its ingredients), and a vault used for hosting private parties create a rich impression in this former bank. Make a reservation at Crop Bistro.
Tarrant’s Café, Richmond, Virginia
Formerly Tarrant’s Pharmacy, Tarrant’s Café pays homage to its old-timey roots with the original sign and stained-glass window, alongside other antiques. Reclaimed marble from an old hotel now forms the bar counter, where cocktails are cheekily called “prescriptions.” Liz Kincaid, chief operating officer from RVA Hospitality (which owns Tarrant’s Café) explains, “While we were renovating, we found old prescriptions written for beer during Prohibition.” A cold drink and specialty pizza sound like just what the doctor ordered. Make a reservation at Tarrant’s Café.
Holy Grale, Louisville, Kentucky
Located in a former Unitarian church, Holy Grale serves farm-to-table food and a variety of beer for a match made in culinary heaven. “One of our focuses is on Trappist beer, or ale made by Trappist monks at eleven Trappist monasteries around the world,” says co-owner Lori Beck. Also, “because the acoustics are so wonderful in the choir loft, we have partnered with local violinist Scott Moore, who is performing classical works by Bach on Sundays,” Beck adds. Make a reservation at Holy Grale.
Red Star, Portland, Oregon
The Lipman Wolfe department store served Portland’s downtown from 1912 until it closed in 1986; now Red Star occupies its first floor. Charlissa Dodge, restaurant general manager, says the building’s history “gives us a sense of character that you can’t come by in new buildings, and the incredible ceiling height offers a glimpse of what it was like inside Lipman Wolfe Department Store in the nineteen hundreds. We embrace the nostalgia of the building, with seasonal, simply delicious food that has big flavor and a whiskey collection of nearly two hundred labels.” Make a reservation at Red Star.
Perry’s Steakhouse & Grill-Downtown Austin, Austin, Texas
Perry’s Steakhouse & Grill sits in what used to be Capital National Bank, part of one of Austin’s earliest business buildings. “We wanted to embrace the dramatic-yet-elegant façade of the historic Norwood Tower and keep the integrity of the bank where Perry’s now resides, so we incorporated certain architectural elements like the original bank vault door into one of our private dining spaces, now called the Vault Room,” Chris Perry, founder and CEO. “The unique feature gives a nod to Austin’s history and perfectly ties into the rare and well-done experience we promise our guests.” Make a reservation at Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille – Downtown Austin.
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Susan Johnston Taylor is an Austin-based freelance writer who’s covered food and business for publications including The Boston Globe, Civil Eats, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fresh Cup, and Pizza Today. Follow her @UrbanMuseWriter.
Photo credits: Robert Lerman (Boiler Nine); Capture Cleveland (Crop Bistro).