The husband-and-wife duo of photographer Westley Isbutt and graphic designer Debra Heiser has been living and working in the Arts Factory since 1992. The building at the intersection of Casino Center and Charleston boulevards has, in the last decade, housed Tinoco’s Bistro, then Paymon’s Mediterranean Bistro and now Isbutt and Heiser’s own Bar + Bistro (BarBistroAF.com), which opened in August.
However, conspicuously missing from Bar + Bistro was the bar. Therefore, borrowing 1,600 square feet from the Jawa architecture studio, Bar + Bistro’s bar will open with the first urban lounge license issued by the city for the 18-block Arts District. Adjacent to the bistro, the bar’s two barn-style steel sliding doors open onto the 4,000-square-foot courtyard with its bocce ball court, stage and fire pits.
When it debuts for a planned New Year’s Eve soft opening (grand opening is slated for late January), the bar will feature a bar top of treated steel as seen elsewhere in the Arts Factory, a façade of vintage brandy-barrel wood and about 45 seats, including barstools and comfy lounge seating clustered around cocktail tables. The walls will spotlight local art, including a mural by Arts Factory tenant Joseph Watson, known for his fantastic urban scenes.
“The Arts Factory has kind of led the way in the arts community here for a long time,” Isbutt says. “What’s cool in low-brow art, what’s new in high-brow art. … The Joseph Watson mural and the art that will be there will be the finest the city and the region has to offer.”
A reflection of the worldly couple’s travels, seating will also include a 30-foot-long banquette (a nod to the Paris subway system) and a raw, weathered aesthetic picked up somewhere between trips to Amsterdam and Seattle. “I can’t build ‘new old’ stuff,” says Isbutt, whose plans for sealed brick and exposed infrastructure will show off the building’s legitimate patina.
Guests may partake in cocktails and the Bistro’s light fare, or join Isbutt and Heiser in delving into boutique wines, whiskeys of the world and Belgian beer. Like the cuisine, products for the beverage program will be “seasonal, locally sourced, and fresh, fresh, fresh,” Heiser says.
Even before it’s officially opened, the bar has been incorporated into the Bar + Bistro’s calendar of art, poetry, jazz and movie nights, and has held meetings of the Stonewall Democrats.