El Camino and The Silver Dollar co-owner Larry Rice is working backwards.
His new project The Pearl, a simple neighborhood bar, is the type of place most new business owners open before they start working on a conceptual restaurant like Southern eatery and bourbon bar The Silver Dollar or surf-themed Mexican restaurant El Camino, he said.
The idea to open a bar in Germantown has percolated in Rice’s mind for years, but it didn’t become a reality until last year when building owners Alex Frommeyer, Amelia Gandara and Gant Hill approached Rice and his partners about opening something in the former Pauly’s Schnitzelburg Pub at 1151 Goss Ave. The trio started a real estate development group called Double Barrelled last year, and Pauly’s was the first property they bought.
Rice and co-owner Shawn Cantley are partners in The Pearl, along with Silver Dollar chef Tyler Powell and Susie Hoyt, the beverage director for El Camino and The Silver Dollar.
Hoyt came up with the name The Pearl. Pearls are classic, and “it’s supposed to be a classic place,” she said.
The decor and feel will celebrate the neighborhood corner bars of decades past. The most obvious nods are a free jukebox with a rotating collection of 45s that customers can choose from and a vinyl record player behind the bar so bartenders can curate the music as well.
The words that continued to come up in talks about what the bar will be were relaxed, comfortable and neighborhood.
“We want it to be a Tuesday bar” where regulars can find their friends and a drink, said Rice, who lives with Hoyt in Germantown.
Rice added that he wants people to feel comfortable ordering anything there. People who visit Nachbar, another Germantown bar, can order a cheap PBR or a $12 craft beer and not get strange looks, he said.
While Nachbar is beer-focused, The Pearl will be more spirits-focused.
“This is going to be a bar that has a little bit of something for everyone,” Hoyt said. “If you want a cocktail, we will have that. If you just want a beer and a shot, we will have that, too.”
She didn’t want to give away too many details, but she has some specialty drinks in the works and is finding ways to engage customers.
The Pearl will riff on the traditional 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour by offering different specials at different times and on different days of the week. Customers may even have the option of dictating the happy hour special. After seeing a drink wheel at a New Orleans bar, the group is looking at making their own.
For example, customers would spin the wheel and whatever it landed on would be the happy hour price for draft beers. For a set price, customers also could spin the wheel to decide what drink the bartender makes them. The normal price of drinks on the wheel will be equal to or less than the cost of a spin.
The Pearl also will have its own version of El Camino’s ring toss game, where players pay a set price to toss a ring at bottles of liquor. If the player gets the ring around a bottle, they get a shot of that liquor. If they miss, they still get a shot, but it’s cheaper liquor.
The Pearl will have a menu of snacks with a strong focus on pickled foods such as pickled eggs, pickled vegetables and, of course, pickles. Other reports mentioned pigs feet on the menu, but chef Powell told IL that the dish more likely than not won’t make the final cut because they aren’t a popular item.
Powell, who runs The Silver Dollar’s kitchen, said he grew up eating pickled foods at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Alabama where his grandfather hung out. “That’s pretty much all they had to eat,” he said, recalling the origin of his love for pickled foods.
The bar also will offer sausages, basic country ham and cheese sandwiches and either free popcorn or free roasted nuts. Either way, it will be “something salty, sweet or spicy to keep them drinking,” Powell said.
Unlike El Camino and The Silver Dollar, the focus won’t be on the food at The Pearl. Pauly’s didn’t have a kitchen, and the group doesn’t intend to build one. Instead, they’ve installed an old-school refrigerator behind the bar to house food, so bartenders will simply need to grab prepared items.
“(Rice) wanted to be able to offer something without having a kitchen staff,” Powell said.
The Pearl’s staff will be experienced El Camino and Silver Dollar employees, who take shifts at the bar. Most likely, the only full-time employee of The Pearl will work on a food truck the partners plan to open.
Stationed in the parking lot behind The Pearl, the food truck will serve a variety of gourmet sausages, including a Memphis-style sausage, Chicago-style sausage and a Bánh mì sausage. There is no timeline for starting the food truck, but until then, Rice said they plan to partner with existing food trucks, which will set up shop outside The Pearl.
The former Pauly’s is undergoing minimal renovations to become The Pearl, Rice said. The budget is “not much.”
The group had a brand new bar built to give bartenders more room to move around and room for the refrigerator and keg systems. The bar runs nearly the length of the bar room, with some space for tables. Ceiling fans were added, and the interior was repainted, but the partners don’t want The Pearl to look like it’s trying too hard.
“We didn’t go nuts,” Rice said. “If you get too conceptual and too design driven, you take away from that actual comfortable design you are going for.”
If they get the proper permits, The Pearl will feature outdoor seating with tables and lawn chairs in what is now the parking lot.
The original plan was to open before the Kentucky Derby, but it now looks as though mid-May is a more realistic timeline. If approved, the bar won’t get its liquor license until the end of April at the earliest, and Rice said he doesn’t want to open Derby week because it would be too taxing for his employees.
Rice threw out a number of thoughts about what The Pearl will be — its food, drinks and atmosphere — but everything is malleable. Aspects of the business could change depending on the desires of customers; The Pearl will grow with the neighborhood, he said.
“It’s here for the neighborhood, not for the owners,” Rice said. “Hopefully, they love it.”