Chef-owner Ashley Christensen of North Carolina restaurant Poole's Diner will be adding two new concepts to her downtown Raleigh empire this year. The first is Death & Taxes (here's the potential logo design), a restaurant with a menu focused on "wood-fire cooking, as expressed through the ingredients of the South," and basement bar. Think large-format dishes of vegetables, seafood and meats, cooked in a wood-burning oven. The bar will feature a "low-lit cellar-like atmosphere," with a drinks program designed by beverage director and partner Matt Fern. The second concept, Bridge Club, will be "styled to feel like a beautiful downtown apartment," and will serve as a private event space for guest chef pop-up dinners and the like.
The restaurants will be located in a restored, 9,700-square-foot early 1900s funeral home/bank building (hence the name Death & Taxes). Both projects have an estimated opening date of "late fall of 2013." For more details, here's the press release:
Ashley Christensen Plans Two New Projects in Downtown Raleigh for Late Fall 2013
(RALEIGH, NC) — Ashley Christensen, chef/owner of Poole's Diner, Beasley's Chicken & Honey, Chuck's and Fox Liquor Bar, will open two new concepts later this year in a restored historic building in Downtown Raleigh. On the basement and ground floor will be Death & Taxes, a full-service restaurant and bar with a menu that focuses on wood-fire cooking. On the second and third floors will be Bridge Club, a private event space.
Located at 105 Hargett St. at the corner of Salisbury St., part of the Fayetteville Street Historic District Quadrant, the building dates back to 1907, and has housed a funeral home, a bank and an attorney's office in its lifespan. The building, which has been vacant for several years, was purchased in 2012 by developer James Goodnight, who is restoring it back to its original glory. "At first, we weren't interested—it had an awful façade of stucco and dark glass that was constructed in the '70s," says Goodnight. "But Derek Minor, then of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, showed me a photograph of what it looked like in the 1940's, and I was intrigued."
Upon examination, Goodnight realized that the original façade remained intact beneath the stucco. Other treasures began to emerge: Bank vaults, dating back to 1927, were still preserved in the building's basement, while an old bank deposit slot was uncovered on the Hargett side of the building. Goodnight purchased the building and began constructions in September 2012, taking pains to preserve (or recreate where preservation was impossible) as much of the original architecture as was feasible.
When it came time to search for tenants, Christensen was at the top of the list. "James is a longtime regular of Poole's, and he had seen how Ashley could pay homage to the history of a space while still making it her own. We knew she would be a great steward for this building," says Brian Wallace of York Properties, who brokered the deal.
Christensen fell in love with the 9,700-square-foot space on the very first walk-through, from the basement vaults to the 12-foot windows that line the second floor. "The building has such physical depth, and there was a great opportunity to do something smart with all of the historical touches that James has uncovered," she notes.
Death & Taxes
Named for the two previous tenants of the building (a funeral home and a bank), Death & Taxes will celebrate the technique of wood-fire cooking, as expressed through the ingredients of the South. The idea for the restaurant took hold during a trip to Uruguay with the Fatback Collective, a coalition of Southern chefs and pitmasters of which Christensen is a member. "Cooking with wood and coals has such a beautiful simplicity, and results in such singular flavor," says Christensen. "I was reminded of that in Uruguay, and am continually reminded whenever I eat the amazing barbecue joints in our state. I wanted to acknowledge that flavor, and the feeling of familiarity and sense of place that it elicits in me." The menu's influences are expansive, and still taking shape, but Christensen envisions an array of larger, shareable platters of vegetables, seafood and meats, their flavors harnessed in a custom wood-burning oven.
Death & Taxes will feature an open kitchen, Christensen's first since her days as chef of the now-shuttered Enoteca Vin. Also returning from the Vin days is Sunny Gerhart, who also worked with Christensen as the opening sous chef at Poole's Diner and has since been chef de cuisine at Durham's Watt's Grocery. He will return to Raleigh as chef de cuisine of Death & Taxes.
Located in the basement, the restaurant's bar will have a low-lit cellar-like atmosphere, with a classic menu of wine and cocktails curated by beverage director and partner, Matt Fern. The bar itself will be constructed around one of the preserved bank vaults.
Located on the second and third floors, Bridge Club will be a private event space that is styled to feel like a beautiful downtown apartment. The space will host private events, pop-up series with visiting chefs, special dinners hosted by the restaurant group and educational opportunities. The space, which features 14-foot ceilings and huge, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, will have a separate kitchen and bar, along with a small rooftop patio.
"Our grandmothers came together to socialize over bridge games, and that spirit infuses this space. We're bridging people together with a shared experience," says Christensen.