“Of course, this is is not representative of the decor,” we were told as we entered the building at Wells and Superior, camera in hand. That was pretty clear from the exposed drywall and stacked building materials everywhere. But if the interior has a long way to go before the hoped-for late October opening, at last night’s reception for food media it was easy to see the potential Alpana Singh and her partners saw in the 19th century boarding house and dry goods store which most recently had been night clubs like Cairo and Religion. On the outside it looks like any three-flat, but inside the ceilings are surprisingly high and the spaces quite large. And the top floor, with its almost two-story space, offers a genuinely spectacular view, high enough to survey its surroundings, yet low enough to still be human-scaled. Filling all this space would be a challenge on Randolph Street, it’s even moreso in a neighborhood that’s never been particularly distinguished for dining, and we’re pretty sure no one’s tried anything of this scale with a star sommelier instead of a star chef. But the reward for all that risk will be a place whose appearance and atmosphere will be one of a kind, and should become a destination. Here’s what we saw at The Boarding House last night.
The old boarding house at Superior and Wells.
The large bar in the center— in place though unfinished— gives you a sense of how the ground floor will flow. Singh says it’s not a wine bar, though, because wine bars connote snootiness. “It’s an everything bar,” she says, explaining that the feel of the place comes from the history of boarding houses as friendly meeting and gathering places back when restaurants were relatively rare.
A sample of how the ceilings will be decorated— with literally thousands of bottles as a giant glass installation.
The front windows (which will open) will offer a spectacular street-level view.
Beverage director Tony Potempa’s red wine margarita.
Alpana Singh chats with journalist David Hammond.
The wine list will have about 300 bottles on it; Alpana’s ambition is to write notes on her blog about every single one.
Singh introduces chef Christian Gosselin and his team and talks about the space— and especially about why, after seven years as a corporate wine executive, she wants to go back on the floor, working with customers five or six nights a week. And she will be there, she promises.
General manager Matt Sheridan, sous chef Bjorn Rasmussen (recently of Balsan) and bar chef Tony Potempa listen in.
Singh grew most animated talking about one of her “toys”— the wine elevator which will visibly transport wine from the cellar to the different floors.
The cellar’s origin was as “catacombs” carved out of the space beneath the sidewalk by Jerry Kleiner for Cairo. When Singh and her partners saw that the space maintained a 55˚ cellar temperature, she asked “Why should we store wine on each level when we have a cellar?” Thus the wine elevator was born.
The second floor is mostly kitchen, with a private dining space. But the most spectacular and formal dining space will be the top floor, with its two-story windows looking out on the city.
While a mezzanine with additional space overlooks the top floor.
Barrels will be a significant design element throughout the space.