When RealtorÂ® Marty Clapton took on the former Castle House Antiques in the Fondren Strip as a property he was trying to sell, he didn’t realize he’d be soon be a restaurateur — or have to go through hail to get there.
“Hail damage from March 2013,” he says of the reason for the long-anticipated opening date. “Just getting the building to stop leaking… that was the major delay.”
Opening tonight to the public, Barrelhouse bills itself as a southern gastropub centered around a diverse food menu with a whiskey-influenced cocktail program.
Clapton, an owner, brings on Andrew Kehoe (Fondren Public) as General Manager and owner and Stephen Kruger (Babalu Tapas & Tacos, Table 100) as Executive Chef.
Named with a nod to classic New Orleans juke joints and for the architectural barrel-vaulted ceiling discovered under nearly half a foot of plaster, Barrelhouse calls their menu “New American” with a heavy dose of Southern inspiration.
“There’s Cajun,” Kruger says, “with some French and Italian thrown in. It’s eclectic, but familiar.”
On the appetizer side, a sausage and cheese plate, confit chicken wings and Tuna PokÃ© nachos are standouts. Look for shrimp and grits, a shrimp po-boy (think NOLA barbecue, not fried) and a classic burger. A curious entry? Meatballs. Yep, meatballs, with three types of meat and three sauces to choose from. Kruger credits Kehoe for the idea.
“It could be an appetizer or an entrÃ©e,” Kruger says. “It’s something that’s affordable enough to come by and get a couple times a week.” Kehoe chimes in, “It’s different.”
As for drinks, Kehoe stresses they won’t be “100 percent whiskey and bourbon driven.”
“Our drink menu has a lot of variety but it’s kind-of compacted. You don’t choose from 100 bourbons, maybe twenty. It’s the same with the food; it’s across the board, a bit of everything, but you won’t have to study a menu for 20 minutes to figure it out.”
A comfortably open dining room and bar, designed by Sunny Holliday, features sputnik lights, live edge cedar and exposed plaster walls. There is a stage, but it won’t be a focal point. Instead, Kehoe hopes happy hour on their covered patio can showcase acoustic music on seasonally mild days.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun with that sidewalk,” he says of their patio’s street-side openness. “Being across from Walker’s, it’s a good feel for the neighborhood and for people watching.”
Barrelhouse won’t be a “sports bar.” One TV hangs in the back and a projector could be used for “major” sporting events. What Kehoe hopes they will be known as a “neighborhood place.”
“We want to get to know our customers,” he explains. “You sit down and the bartender knows what you drink. It’s consistency all around — in the food, drink and familiar faces.”
Fondren – with 21 locally-owned restaurants, bars, bakeries and coffee shops in a four block area — has space for a place like Barrelhouse, Kehoe believes. “With how big this area has become, there are still voids to fill. ‘Different and new’ will offer somewhere else to go. With proximity to the hospitals, with hotels coming — everyone is already busy.” Kruger adds, “We’re in a destination neighborhood, so the more, the better. That’s how this place has grown.”
Clapton agrees and hopes his new restaurant brings new life to the western edge of historic downtown Fondren. “With future growth on this side of the street, people will need lunch and dinner. Hopefully, they’ll become our customers.”
Barrelhouse is open Monday-Friday, dinner only, and Saturdays for lunch and dinner. The kitchen will close at 10pm each night and the bar will stay open until at least midnight.
New parking behind the restaurant — 30 – 40 spaces — will be accessed by the drive that runs alongside the Capri off North State Street. Barrelhouse says it will be well-lit and secured with access through a rear entrance.Â