More than a year after it closed, cryptic signs of life were recently found in the former home of Newark rock club Mojo Main.
Since March, messages have been appearing in the bar’s marquee indicating that something is happening, including “Nothing to see yet”, “It’s worth the wait” and “Rhymes with frogs”.
With what’s opening at 270 E. Main St. in just over two months, one of the messages should be, “The days of the grubby college bars on Main Street are over.”
A couple of first-time restaurateurs will soon be opening the Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, a craft beer-themed restaurant that aims to become a meeting place for the community with live acoustic music and shared plates with comfort foods.
After more than 25 years as the East End Cafe and Mojo Main, serving a mix of locals and college students with a wild mix of original music and touring with national acts, the spot is turning the pages.
In this way, Main Street is losing its last hangout after years of welcoming a long line of chic (and parent-friendly) restaurants and bars like Stone Balloon Ale House, Del Pez, Taverna, and Santa Fe. Even the legendary Deer Park Tavern with beer stains was upgraded in 2001 thanks to a six-month renovation when Bob Ashby bought the watering hole.
If you want more signs of Main Street growing up, focus on ongoing renovations and construction at Newark Shopping Center, Grain’s neighbor on the east end of Main Street.
The mall is in dire need of a $ 10 million renovation to get a new, modern look and refurbished storefronts.
At the same time, Brunswick Blue Hen Lanes was demolished in the fall and a new 220-unit home called Bainbridge Delaware is currently being built in its place. The Newark Cinema Center 3 is currently being renovated itself and converted from 35 mm projection to digital. A new Brazilian steakhouse, Churrascaria Saudades, will open by the end of summer.
Throw in Grain, benefiting from the craft beer boom that spawned successful bars like Newark’s Two Stones Pub and Wilmingtons Trolley Tap House, and a somewhat forgotten part of Main Street are the best conditions for a rebirth.
“Main Street is obviously a one-way street, so all of this will really cement the first impression,” said Ricky Nietubicz, community affairs officer and administrator of the Downtown Newark Partnership, a public-private partnership that promotes and improves downtown.
Grain, owned by North Star neighbors and University of Delaware alumni Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue, is slated to open in time for the Downtown Newark Food & Brew Festival on July 25th. Expect a menu that turns away from some of the fancier dishes that other gastropubs have been inclined to.
Extensive renovation work will begin in a few days. Yorklyn-based interior designer and UD graduate Katie O’Hara heads the restaurant’s trendy look. A website for the restaurant was recently launched online at cornonmain.com.
Along the front sidewalk, Grain will have a lounge area with wooden cord seating leading to the front patio. The porch will have an exposed and curved wood grain that covers the brick and separates the restaurant from a neighboring property. Some of the tables are inspired by the German beer garden and have a built-in central area that can accommodate ice and beer.
Once inside, the front bar will have a large, see-through walk-in cooler that they jokingly refer to as a “medicine cabinet”. Further back, the back bar will be a more relaxed space. The old Mojo main stage will remain in the same place but will be reduced in size. The door connecting the two bar areas will be expanded and four large windows will be installed, transforming the long-standing damp, dark bar into a sunny salon.
And on the walls, the real theme of the restaurant will come together in allusion to the American inventor Oliver Evans. A collection of antique tools will continuously cover the walls, and a floating steam-themed structure will even hang over guests in the front bar.
Evans was a Newport born engineer and pioneer at the turn of the 19th century who built the first automated mill and America’s first high pressure steam engine.
“We wanted to connect with the innovation and excitement that is going on at the university. We want to celebrate that,” says Mikles, who previously worked at Wilmington Digital Design Agency, which he co-founded, The Archer Group.
Mikles sold his last stake in Archer last summer and is now marketing a new software company for a Pennsylvania-based group of investors. O’Donoghue works in marketing for a Wilmington bank, but spent his time serving and managing restaurants at a young age, including the now-closed Newark Bar Down Under and The Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach.
Possibly the biggest draw to Grain is the large parking lot in the back, which has improved lighting and good cleaning to remove the graffiti on the walls and broken glass on the floor.
Both Mikles and O’Donoghue spent part of their college years watching bands at the old East End Cafe and viewing music as a big part of their new restaurant, with solo and duo acoustic acts in mind for their stage had. The restaurant plans to stream or record the performances online and post them on its website.
“We want to create reasons why people come together, and music is one of those reasons,” says Mikles. “Main Street has such a musical legacy. Everyone we speak to has the story of an artist who they saw here before they got really big. So music is a big part of it.”
As for beer, Grain will have at least 100 different varieties to choose from, with plans to set up a “beer council” of customers and beer fans to curate the rotating selection. And unlike some other craft brew pubs that have popped up in recent years, Grain will also be offering non-craft beers, so Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Pabst Blue Ribbon drinkers can still call the location at home Story of an artist you saw here before they got really big, so music plays a big part. “
Mikles and O’Donoghue, both in their forties, plan to expand and open more Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen restaurants across Delaware in the coming years.
The property on which Grain is located is managed by Ernie Laletas and Christine Frangakis, the son and daughter of Elaine Papantinas, who owned it with husband Stephen. Elaine Papantinas died in December at the age of 86. Stephen Papantinas is 91 years old and cannot manage the property. His stepchildren were working on the deal to bring in grain.
According to Laletas, the family was keen to move the property into a restaurant. When the Papantinas family first bought the property in 1976, they owned and operated the Hidden Hearth restaurant before the couple retired and the East End Cafe took over the location in 1987.
“We really wanted it to be a different restaurant because it was [Stephen Papantinas’] I always want to have a restaurant, “says Laletas, 58.” I think these people really want to get it right. We are all the way behind them. “
– Ryan Cormier, the news journal. Facebook: @ryancormier. Twitter: @ryancormier. Instagram: @ryancormier.