Just two years after opening The Exchange Pub + Kitchen in downtown New Albany, owner Ian Hall is expanding the 200-seat bistro with new indoor-outdoor seating and a large patio that will feature fire pits, booth seating and live acoustic musical acts.
Yet as if increasing capacity there by 30 percent wasn’t ambitious enough, construction crews just began work on Brooklyn & The Butcher, a casual steakhouse Hall will own and operate just a block away at 148 E. Market St. Constructed in 1871, the building served as a hotel for more than a century before its bottom floor was converted for restaurant use as New Albany Bistro and Habana Blues Tapas.
“Two big things downtown New Albany lacks is true outdoor dining (and) nice late-night spots to get a drink and something to eat,” said Hall. “I really want to see that happen in our lounge areas. Since it used to be a hotel, I’d love to see that hotel bar feel brought back.”
But first, change at The Exchange: Hall said guests who dine outdoors there can expect “a somewhat more streamlined menu than what they get inside. We don’t want to overwhelm the kitchen and not be able to execute it.”
The year-round space features garage-style doors that can be raised when it’s warm outside and booked for private parties. The patio, he added, should host several special events.
“We’d love to do things like a pig roast out on the patio,” he said. Pointing toward the soon-to-be-open Floyd County Brewing Co. just catty-corner to The Exchange, he said, “There’s so much going on down here right between restaurants that have been here a while and new ones opening. It’s all finally happening.”
The remark is a tribute to early investors such as Bank Street Brewhouse, Feast BBQ, The Exchange, Dragon King’s Daughter, Wick’s Pizza and Toast on Market (all are within two blocks of each other), which are enjoying increasingly steady customer traffic to the area.
The city finally pitched in to pave the area’s formerly pot-holed streets, and real estate investors are buying up buildings for redevelopment and mixed use. The floors above Brooklyn & The Butcher are nearly complete studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments.
“The people who live here will be able to walk right down into the lobby of the restaurant, just as if they were in a hotel,” he said.
Hall said Brooklyn & The Butcher is a combination of its beef-centered offerings and its metropolitan New York look, best viewed from within the building’s walled courtyard. There, its brick walls soar nearly four stories, old exterior fire escape stairs hang from a wall, and a long wall on an adjacent building bears a dense, green beard of years of ivy growth.
“This space will be used for private parties, or if the weather’s nice, just another place to let people wait for dinner and have a drink,” Hall said.
Leading me down a flight of dusty stairs to a basement directly below the first flour lounge area, he explained that the space, which will hold about 30, will serve late-night drinks and appetizers.
“I like what Decca has done with its basement lounge, and we’ve got space to do something like that,” Hall said. “As the restaurant closes down at night, people can still come here.”
Between Hall’s company, Brand Hospitality, and building owner Matt Chalfant, about $800,000 is being spent on gutting the space to its brick bones. Mixed-era touches like high, coffered ceilings with tin surfaces and modern lighting will be added.
Its expansive kitchen will be open to BTB’s rear dining room, but “not out there for everyone to see like at The Exchange. I’m sure the cooks there will be bummed out when they see how big the kitchen is over here.”
If all goes according to plan, Hall projects a late fall opening for BTB. On the menu will be a mix of entrees and sharable plates, and a mix of pricey beef cuts (bone-in ribeye and tenderloin) and more affordable choices such as chuck flap and teres cuts.
“We do not want the steakhouse to be a special-occasion restaurant; we want it to be casual, a place where people could afford to come multiple times a week,” Hall said.
He said The Exchange has long benefitted from traffic to and from Horseshoe Casino, about 15 minutes away, and he believes Brooklyn & The Butcher will do even better.
“If they win there, I think they’ll come here,” he said.