Colt & Gray finally set to start construction on expansion, new basement bar

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It's been a year and a half since Colt & Gray owner Nelson Perkins first announced he was expanding his restaurant into the space next door and would also build a brand-new cocktail bar, charcuterie kitchen and private dining room in the basement beneath. Barring complications, he hoped to have all parts of the project finished by summer 2012. Complications quickly came in the form of engineering glitches, though, and Perkins had to scrap his schedule. He thought he was close to having everything worked out last April, but it took another full year to have his plans approved by the city and then put together the financing package.

At long last, though, Perkins has pulled his final permit, and demolition has finally begin. Soon construction will start on Ste. Ellie, Viande and the Colt & Gray additions.

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Perkins may have had to rework his drawings a number of times, but his original concept remains largely intact. "We've made a few minor tweaks, but things are mostly the same," he says. The big change, he notes, comes in the space allotted to the private dining room: He took on more basement space in the redesign, which means he'll be able to host much larger events than originally anticipated. "We'll have 93 seats in two divisible rooms," he explains.

That space will be served by the bar and kitchen dedicated to Ste. Ellie, which will seat 48 patrons and have standing room for an additional 25. "We're still trying to figure out how to philosophically differentiate Ste. Ellie and Colt & Gray," Perkins adds.

Kevin Burke, who will take on bar-director duties for both spots, notes that Ste. Ellie will be "cheekier, rowdier and more experimental," while Colt & Gray will be more like a "1930s hotel bar along the lines of Hemingway in Paris or the Savoy Bar, which are known not just for the fine dining, but for the incredible classic cocktail canons."

To that end, drinkers can expect Colt & Gray to offer "six to seven classics that are seasonally appropriate and three to four house cocktails that are hyper-seasonal and rotate every couple of weeks," Burke says, as well as higher-end single-malts and whiskeys. At Ste. Ellie, on the other hand, "we'll have all house cocktails. We'll still make a mean minimalist Old Fashioned; it just won't be our bread and butter." The bar staffs will be interchangeable, so guests will be able to order cocktails from either menu at either bar.

Jenna Hodges, who currently oversees the pastry program at Colt & Gray, will step up to the chef de cuisine role at Ste. Ellie, and she plans to offer bar-appropriate snacks that are slightly more casual and small-plate-oriented. She's going to wait to write the actual menu until construction has started, but one thing is already certain: "The burgers will move from upstairs to downstairs," Perkins says.

The kitchen at Ste. Ellie will be open until at least 1:30 a.m., Hodges adds. And unlike Colt & Gray, Ste. Ellie will not take reservations.

With his plans approved, Perkins can also get to work on getting HAACP approval from the USDA for Viande, the charcuterie kitchen he'll use to supply his spots as well as other area restaurants -- if there's any left over. That program will be overseen by curing director and prince of pork Kyle Foster, another longtime member of the Colt & Gray kitchen.

Perkins hopes that Ste. Ellie will be open by late August; he expects to finish all parts of the downstairs buildout by September. In the meantime, the upstairs expansion of Colt & Gray, which will add capacity for about forty additional covers each night, should open by late June.

And Perkins will make some slight aesthetic changes to the existing patio during construction, too. "We'll close the patio in on one side and add planters and old-fashioned lightbulbs," he says. "It will make it cozier." Look for those changes in the next few weeks.

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