Source: Observer Reporter
By: Rick Shrum
Stylish tavern/restaurant captures spirit of Washington
Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter. Steve Kowalczuk, beverage director at Presidents Pub, mixes a drink for a customer at the restaurant on North Main Street in downtown Washington. Official kickoff for the new restaurant is New Year’s Eve. Order a Print
Presidents Pub has had its inaugural.
The stylish tavern/restaurant launched last week in downtown Washington. Following more than a year of renovations, the pub is open for lunch, dinner, drinks and glimpses of local history at 88 N. Main St., where the Ernie’s Freestyle bar previously operated.
“There’s nothing that hasn’t been redone in this building,” said Mark Kennison Sr., owner with his wife, Monica, and their son, Mark Jr.
And there’s nothing that isn’t being redone outside the two-story structure, where a patio at the rear is about 80 percent complete. Work will continue there when winter’s worst passes.
For now, though, the inside is the inside story.
Presidents Pub opened to the public Dec. 21. It already has hosted two holiday parties, for the city police department and Washington County district attorney’s office. But the first bona fide big bash will be Thursday – New Year’s Eve. “We’ll have special dinner features and a champagne toast at midnight,” Mark Jr. said.
He and his parents came to a quick consensus on the name. “We want to pull the college as a whole to Main Street,” the son said, referring to Washington & Jefferson, home of the Presidents – his alma mater two blocks to the east.
“We want this to be a true college town, not just a town with a college.”
The family wants to establish, then maintain a strong unity between the city and school. To that end, they have hired W&J students among their staff of 30.
The Kennisons also have devoted the entire 1,000-square-foot top floor to a W&J party room and a cozy space downstairs, off the main dining area, for a W&J sports room, adorned with framed athletic photos from the past.
Historical shots of Washington, courtesy of the county historical society, decorate other first-floor walls.
“We wanted to honor the history of Washington,” Monica Kennison said.
The ground floor is spacious – 3,500 square feet with seating for 110 – and features seven large-screen TVs and a bar that is seemingly the length of a bowling lane. It is certainly distinctive, and unexpectedly attractive considering the makeup. The top is concrete, and the wooden edges are seamlessly connected picture frames from the old Evans Studio.
There are 24 taps dispensing mostly craft beers, but there also are bottled and canned brews, and drink selections that don’t have a foamy head. Beverage director Steve Kowalczuk assures these will not be the standard mixed drinks of today.
“Our focus is on pre-Prohibition-style cocktails, the purest way to make cocktails. The focus will be more on spirits and will be less sweet,” he said.
Sandwiches dominate the lunch menu, and five entrees are available for dinner – for now. Mark Jr. eventually would like to implement seasonal food and drink menus.
Sunday brunch will be accompanied by live jazz from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mark Jr. said the pub is partnering with Washington Jazz Society on that endeavor, which began this past weekend.
Patio plans include a garden-like green space, privacy fences, fire pits, gas lanterns, ivy-covered walls and seating for 70. A decorative waterfall already exists. There is plenty of metered parking behind the building.
“There’s really no place to eat outside in the city,” Mark Sr. said, adding that landscaping still has to be done. He said the patio should be completed in the spring.
The family purchased the building in April 2014 before beginning the lengthy overhaul. They also have bought a two-story structure next door, where they plan to have an open balcony, wine bar and “at least” four apartments on top, and a cigar shop at the bottom.
Mark Jr. likely will be wielding a hammer and paint brush there, too. He has done a lot of the labor at all of the family’s projects downtown.
This is their fourth in the Main Street business district, but first on North Main, where there has been a greater need for renewal. Mark Jr., a Trinity High alumnus, refurbished and launched Upper Crust restaurant at the corner of South Main and West Maiden Street, then a few doors down Main, opened a coffee shop and an Italian store in an adjacent space. He sold all three, the coffee shop and Italian store becoming Chicco Baccello.
“Mark is doing his best to build up Main Street,” his father said. “That is his only focus. This is our hometown. We’re trying to do our part.”
Mark Sr. added that the family plans to tackle another project on Main Street in 2016, but declined to give specifics.
Presidents Pub is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, with the kitchen operating until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The phone is 724-206-0918; the website, according to Mark Sr., is under construction.
The bar/restaurant, on the contrary, is up and running.