Westport’s dining scene takes another giant step forward next week.
And it does so with a gentle nod to the past.
Jesup Hall opens Tuesday, in the old Town Hall.
If you don’t know where that is: It’s the building with one restaurant already: Rothbard Ale + Larder.
And if you don’t know where that is — it’s the building next to Restoration Hardware. Opposite Patagonia.
Though it served as Town Hall (and, for many years, police headquarters) from its construction in 1907 through the 1970s, the Revivalist structure with a stone facade is often ignored.
Now — thanks to talented restaurateur Bill Taibe — it will once again be smack in the middle of downtown action.
Taibe — who owned Le Farm in Colonial Green, then opened The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Saugatuck — had been eyeing the Charles Street property that most recently housed the Blu Parrot (before that, Jasmine and the Arrow).
But the deal did not work. When he heard the historic town hall was available, he knew it was perfect.
“It’s got great bones,” Taibe said last night, at a preview opening. “It’s in downtown Westport. With Bedford Square opening up across the street, there’s a lot going on here. This is a fantastic place to be.”
Interior designer Kate Hauser — who worked with Taibe on the Whelk and Kawa Ni — has created a warm, welcoming environment in a very interesting space. With a long bar on one side, communal tables in the middle, and smaller tables (including a circular one) on the other side, Taibe envisions Jesup Hall as an all-day destination. He’ll serve lunch and dinner, plus — a first for him — Sunday brunch.
Chef Dan Sabia — most recently at the Bedford Post Inn, who has worked with Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — specializes in large cuts of meat, and loves vegetables. The fennel, kale salad, cauliflower and lamb served last night were especially noteworthy.
As with all of Taibe’s restaurants, local sourcing is important. “It will be seasonal, honest food,” Taibe says.
Taibe opened his first Westport restaurant — Le Farm — 7 years ago. “I really feel part of the town,” he says. “I adore it. It’s been so good to me.”
He felt a responsibility to the building, he says. But calling his new restaurant Town Hall — as some people suggested — did not feel right. Then he thought about nearby Jesup Green. He researched the family. So Jesup Hall it was.
Taibe makes sure all his employees know where they are — and who Morris Jesup was. He’s the grandson of Ebenezer Jesup, who owned the property we now call Jesup Green (and a nearby wharf). Morris funded the Westport Library (its original location, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street, was dedicated in 1908, just a couple of months after he died).
He also helped found the Young Men’s Christian Association — the national Y organization — and was a major contributor to the Arctic expeditions of Robert Peary, the Tuskegee Institute and the American Museum of Natural History (which he also served as president).
The space has some challenges. There are two entrances — but one is set back from the Post Road; the other is in back, off the parking lot.
That’s fine. In the summer, the front patio will be filled with tables, making for a lively outdoor scene.
Jesup Hall may even share some outdoor space with Rothbard. “I love those guys,” Taibe says, of the downstairs restaurant, which serves Central European and German fare. “They’ve been so supportive the entire time we were building our space.”
Other downtown restaurant announcements are coming soon. But right now, the 2 words to keep in mind are: Jesup Hall.
(Hat tip: Dorothy Curran)