Tag Archives: Jesup Hall

Friday Flashback #132

Last week, I posted a story about the day Marian Anderson visited Bedford Elementary School. Buried in the piece was a quick line noting that the building now serves as Town Hall.

Sure, our Myrtle Avenue seat of government looks like a school. But although generations of graduates think about their alma mater every time they drive by or see a reference to it on “06880,” I wonder how many Westporters who moved here since the 1979 conversion realize its history.

Bedfprd Elementary School (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

In 1917, the town voted to build a new school to serve children from “East and West Saugatuck, Cross Highway, Poplar Plains and Coleytown.” Major funding came from noted philanthropist (and Beachside Avenue resident) Edward T. Bedford.

Eight years later he helped fund Greens Farms Elementary School, much closer to his estate.

So if Town Hall is now at the old Bedford El, where was it originally?

The Post Road. For decades, our town operated out of the handsome stone building next to what is today Restoration Hardware.

The old Town Hall has been repurposed. Westporters know it now for 2 great restaurants: Jesup Hall, and Rothbard Ale + Larder.

There’s not much to remind you that it was once the center of government. Although the next time you’re in Rothbard, take a close look around.

The basement once served as the police lockup.

Pic Of The Day #519

Downtown dining: Jesup Hall …

… Rothbard Ale + Larder …

… Amis Trattoria …

… and Pink Sumo (Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

Pic Of The Day #28

Old Town Hall on the Post Road — now Jesup Hall and Rothbard + Larder restaurants. (Photo copyright Katherine Bruan)

Old Post Office Offers New Design

For several years, Design Within Reach had a small Westport store.

Tucked away on Elm Street — behind Klein’s and the back entrance to the YMCA — it was not, CEO John Edelman admits, a great location.

Now Design Within Reach — which calls itself “the largest retailer of authentic modern furniture and accessories in the world” — is back in Westport.

This time, they’re doing it right.

Design Within Reach — a new store in the old post office.

The Stamford-based company has taken over both levels of the 1935 post office building on the Post Road, across from Jeera Thai and Finalmente. They’ve completely renovated the 2 floors — which themselves were redesigned by Post 154, a restaurant that could not possibly need all that space — and made good use of the terrace overlooking Bay Street.

The Bay Street side of Design Within Reach. New entrances lead up from the sidewalk.

It’s one more exciting addition to downtown. With Bedford Square and Jesup Hall restaurant opening nearby, there’s an infusion of energy that hasn’t been felt since the movie theaters’ last picture shows 2 decades ago.

Edelman is excited to return. And he doesn’t just mean relocating the store.

His Westport roots go back to his parents, who got married here 70 years ago. They moved to Ridgefield (more land), but he made regular trips to Gold’s (for Sunday lox and bagels) and Klein’s (for Sally White’s record department).

Eight years ago, when Edelman became CEO, the New York Times did a story. Of all the company’s stores, he chose to be photographed in Westport.

Last week — as guests at an opening party admired the handsome chairs, desks, beds, lighting fixtures, sofas and more — Edelman took time to talk about his sprawling new store.

John Edelman (center), Design Within Reach’s CEO. He’s flanked by Matt Mandell (left, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director) and Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe.

As a post office, the building was a typical New Deal project: big and heavy. The Post 154 owners modernized it, but when they closed they left lots of “stuff” behind.

The new tenants created a beautiful space. It’s modern, open, alluring and airy.

Designers kept the center staircase, but that’s about all that remains. They “deconstructed” nearly all the rest. Exposed ceilings and HVAC give the store a hip, contemporary feel.

Dozens of pendant lights hang above the center staircase.

The terrace is a great idea, showcasing relaxed living while drawing customers from the side street.

The store — which really should be called Design Within Reach of Only Certain Zip Codes — does not have many suburban locations. Edelman says. But with 70% of their clientele having graduate degrees, Westport is a perfect spot.

Edelman is back in Westport big time. He and his wife rented a house on the water. He can walk to the train station, and he may buy a boat.

He can’t buy records from Sally White anymore. To mail a letter, he uses the “new” post office.

But he can still get his bagels and lox at Gold’s.

And then, a couple of blocks away, he can watch Design Within Reach help jump-start the renaissance of downtown Westport.

There’s plenty of room on the lower level to show off bedding, and more.

Jesup Hall Reinvigorates Downtown Dining

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.

The facade still says

The facade still says “Town Hall” (sort of). Starting next week though, 90 Post Road East will be known as Jesup Hall.

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.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

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.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall. Last night, it was used for a buffet dinner.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall.

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)