Bar Fry sizzles into downtown slot

by Brian Clarey

The buzz got started early for the new French fry joint on Elm Street due to a conspicuous branding campaign launched by a logo painted on the picture window that once afforded sidewalk pedestrians smoke-veiled glimpses into the amber barroom of the Next Door Tavern.

“Bar Fry” the stylized logo declared, even as construction and design had barely gotten underway in the long alley of a room.

And tonight Brad Semon is bopping around the space surrounded by his attractive and influential friends for the soft opening. He’s working the room in a crisp white shirt open at the collar. He’s grabbing handshakes and dishing out backslaps, darting behind the bar to cushion his bartenders, poking his head in the kitchen, sniffing the air. And the whole time he’s wearing this beaming smile’… this beacon’… so potent that it takes his whole head to produce it.

Semon’s got his fingers in a lot of pies: a stake in the Empire Room, a consulting business for a small list of clients, his flagship catering business the Painted Plate. Now he’s got a swinging joint downtown, and the guy is clearly loving it.

You won’t believe the place. The darkness and dinge of the Next Door Tavern has been scraped clean, brightly lit and had a sunny coat of yellow paint slapped on it.

Neighborhood looky-loos have likely peeped the foyer from the picture window through cupped hands, seen the slim kitchen and the hallway that leads to the back barroom. But you’ve got to go through the doors and see it with your own eyes to believe it: funky wall sconces, artful flourishes, a magnificent chandelier and art-deco barstools – the kind with shock absorbers in them, the vision of interior designer Sondra Solomon. She says that after she went to the Furniture Market and found the chandelier – a big, beautiful glass-plate number that puts out golden light – she ended up basing the whole room on its motif.

“I felt like I wanted the next step up,” Semon says during a rare lull in his circuit. “A little more serious of a bar, with customers maybe a little older who still want to participate in downtown.”

He adds: “This is the first concept where I got the location [first] and then figured out what would work in it.”

You might could call it high concept. True to its name, Bar Fry does indeed have a deep fryer. Two of them, actually, with another on the way just to prepare the strips of Kennebeck potatoes that should quickly become the inspiration for late-night cravings.

The menu is full of sizzle: house hush puppie calamari, battered and fried shrimp and oysters and the promise of featured specials from the mind of Semon, one of the city’s most innovative chefs.

But what gets me are the sauces – Sauces! – loads of ’em. Wasabi ranch. Curry mayonnaise. Fire spice ketchup. Creole remoulade. Sauces, people! This is what truly separates us from the animals.

And also, because Semon is a chef and not a bartender, he’s laid in a long list of complicated frozen drinks and booze smoothies made with fresh fruit and real juices that will tax the drinkmakers’ patience as they become more and more popular.

And this place will be popular. My prediction is that, with its astute sense of style and original cocktail concepts, this will become what experts call a “hot chick bar,” a creature so rare as to be almost mythological among the beer-gutted schlubs who pacify themselves at the grittier watering holes in town.

The soft opening, Semon says, will extend through Friday and Saturday and then the club (restaurant? French-fry lounge?) will be ready for the public by the end of this week.

Like all good chefs Semon is a perfectionist, and he’s not going to let this bird fly until he’s sure she’s ready to take wing.

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