The Central District’s newest resident, The Neighbor Lady is slated to officially move in (well, open) on April 13. Twilight Exit owner Stephan Mollmann has partnered up with Twilight bartender Shira Bray to bring to the block an Amsterdam-inspired, bordelloesque lounge serving up housemade vegetarian dishes and stiff drinks.
Since October of 2011 the brick-fronted building that used to house Thompson’s Point of View has undergone extensive renovations. Walls have been taken down and added. An entirely new kitchen, complete with hood system and range, has been hard piped in. The bar, similar to the Twilight Exit’s hanging bar, has been hammered together and built up, welded and hung. Even the ceiling has been done and redone. “You don’t even know about the rats,” says Mollmann, his face as serious as Clint Eastwood’s in you-name-it. As we continued talking over the hurdles and hoops of getting the place in order, I held wood and he skillsawed. All hands on deck, I suppose. While April 13 is the aim, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“The floor comes in tomorrow,” he says. The vinyl covers for the banquette seats are in storage, waiting for a time when sawdust and varnish vapor no longer hang in the air. Looking around, it’s obvious the place is going to dress up nice. Mollmann and his crew have done this before. “You remember the first Twigh?” asks Mollmann. My sister was a regular at the bar’s first incarnation and over the years Mollmann and I have gotten to know each other. "This is my best bar yet.”
Over the zimms and whirs of skillsaws and the pounding of wrenches and nails, Mollmann parlays his vision for the place. I picture it like this: When you first walk into the Neighbor Lady you will half expect to see groups of stately Southern gentlemen gathered around sipping rails, tippling on bourbon, and sizing up pretty women wearing lacy, frilly-topped stockings. The dim, honey-glow lighting will slow the pace of the busy intersection outside. You’re transported. Damask wallpaper of various color combinations —rose over red, blue on bone, robin’s egg and quince, distinctive and sudden—combine classily with the tiger wood bar, dark with a moody patina.
With so much attention spent on decor you’d think the food and drink offerings would be equally masterminded. You’d be half right.
Meagan Lass, who previously cheffed at Cafe Flora, has created a veg-centric menu for meat eaters (meat options also available). In an attempt at “vegetarian comfort food” the first draft menu includes a muffuletta sandwich, meat(less)balls and sauce, pasta and puttanesca, a Reuben made with a housemade take on Field Roast, and, among other items, a smoked tempeh BLT. If you’re looking for a tall burger, go to the Twilight. And if you’re looking for a cocktail menu, go to Capitol Hill.
“I’ve always been opposed to those,” says Mollmann, “Basically it’s what they charge anyway for the cocktail and then they add a buck or two. If we have the booze, we’ll make the drink.” Fair enough.
Standing among boxes of wood scraps and tubes of caulking, in the space where the pool table will eventually stand, Mollmann tells me he and Bray are planning on doing daily Southern-classic drink specials. Mint Juleps. Old Fashionds. Sazeracs. Love it.
The Central District, spanning west from 12th to MLK and south from Madison to Rainer, is largely residential with very few establishments one could categorize as “nightlife.” While Mollmann’s other bar, the Twilight Exit, plays host to some raucous karaoke every Sunday night, it’s hard to say how the Neighbor Lady’s identity will evolve. Mollmann has lived in the Central District for 20-plus years and is keen to keep things neighborhood-y. “I want it to be a true neighborhood bar, let the crowd shape it.”
We’ll keep you posted on any changes, but for now, mark your calendars for April 13.