A Weary Traveler bartender who used to own an elegant cocktail bar in Copenhagen, Denmark, is planning to open a bistro on Williamson Street in front of Broom Street Theater.
Brian Hamilton and his wife, Alicia, plan to turn the ground floor of the two-story brick building at 1113 Williamson St. into “a polished American bistro with a French accent.” That description should sum up both the ambiance and the menu, he added.
One of the restaurant’s signature items will be a big steak, possibly large enough for two people to share, Hamilton said. It will be served with a classic French sauce like a bordelaise.
“We’re not going to be pigeonholed into being a French restaurant,” Hamilton said. “We will have lots of other fare.”
The plan is to offer six or seven permanent entrees, which he said will be “sizeable in portion,” and between 10 and 12 smaller items, that Hamilton termed “nontrays,” or not quite appetizers, not quite entrees.
“Some will be bordering on hors d’oeuvres and others will be almost meals,” he said.
The restaurant, which is yet unnamed, also will feature permanent specials for each day of the week. Hamilton said one night it will be a whole roast bird, perhaps a roasted pheasant.
The price point will be between $8 and $25.
Hamilton describes the building, purchased in October by Troy Rost, as “kind of crumbling apart right now.”
Rost cautions that the project is still in the early stages of getting city zoning approvals, although the neighborhood has approved it, he said.
His plan is to renovate the ground floor which is two apartments right now. He’ll knock down a couple of walls and make it one big room.
“It’s an old building that’s been cobbled up into a block of little rooms, and believe it or not, we’re just opening it back up to probably where it was when it was built,” said Rost, who also owns the building that houses the Underground Food Collective’s Forequarter restaurant.
He said he’d like to have the project done by the holidays. Work is scheduled to start in August. Hamilton, as well, said he hopes to have the restaurant open by Christmas.
The Hamiltons met Rost because they were originally interested in the Forequarter space.
“I can’t think of anybody better than him to come in and buy a building like that,” Hamilton said. “He’s going to repair all the crumbling brick. ... It will be quite beautiful.”
The building is one block West of the Weary Traveler. It’s right across from the BP and a few doors down from Cafe Costa Rica.
Hamilton is a New York native who grew up behind the bar at his father’s Irish pub. He owned a posh cocktail bar in Copenhagen, where he lived for eight years. He has also worked in restaurants in New Orleans.
In Madison, he’s worked at the old Blue Marlin, Restaurant Magnus, Graze, Nostrano and the Weary Traveler, where he recently gave up his cooking shift to have more time at home with the couple’s infant.
He still tends bar at the Weary and sometimes serves as a manager.
“The restaurant business is the only thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
Hamilton will be doing some of the cooking, but has lined up a chef de cuisine, whom he doesn’t want to reveal at this point. He will be concentrating on the bar and its cocktail list.
The bistro will be a small place with 40 to 50 seats and a 10- to 15-seat bar.
Hamilton has lived on the Near East Side of Madison for seven years, and has been working at the Weary Traveler most of that time, but full-time for the last five.
“I feel like I’m part of the fabric of the neighborhood already,” he said. “I love the Near East Side, especially Willy Street, East Johnson Street. These are, in my opinion, the best parts of the city.”
And Hamilton thinks he has
something to add to the neighborhood.
“Even with all the restaurants popping up like mushrooms, I think there’s still a little room in there.”