But a chance meeting between Heaney and James Unger, an owner of the hotel and Harold's, convinced the accomplished bartender to take a chance on a newly conceived concept that would allow him to share his knowledge -- both mixology and culinary -- in a town that's long struggled with its restaurant landscape.
"I've always had a passion for food and cocktail culture, and I had a vision of what I wanted to do with the restaurant, but I didn't know how to put it all together," admits Unger, who found himself sitting at the Bitter Bar one night while Heaney was concocting cocktails -- and he liked what he saw. "I just watched him that first night, but after getting the approval to overhaul the restaurant, I went back to the Bitter Bar, sneaked up to the bar and told Noah that I'd like to talk to him." He and Heaney chatted, and it didn't take long for the two to agree to partner on the project.
"When James pitched me on the idea, and told me that I'd have a blank canvas to work with, and that I'd be able to get my hands in every single aspect of the restaurant, I was hooked," says Heaney. "And I loved that what he was doing was yet to be defined, and that it'd be a collaborative effort."
The restaurant and lounge, formerly called Fusion, opened last week and is named after Harold Pratt, who was born and raised in Longmont, and whose family has a long lineage and history in the town. And the adjacent speakeasy bar, called the Bayonet Room, is named for a sword that once belonged to Pratt and is now in the hands of Unger.
And the Bayonet Room is smashing, with its brothel-red banquettes and retro swivel stools, soft lighting, tin ceiling and antiquated bar augmented by a chalkboard scroll of spirits. Suffice to say, it defies just about everything you'd expect from a hotel bar. There's even an old-fashioned telephone booth with a pull-down seat for those who want to slink off and have a private conversation. And the dining room, framed with windows, some of which overlook the large covered patio with a fire pit, and walled with shelves that hold Heaney's own jams and preserves, hits the mark, too.
"The idea was to open something exciting in Longmont, something different, and we definitely wanted to incorporate some fun and interesting touches and completely redo what was here before," says Heaney. And the menu, he adds, is also worlds away from its predecessor. "We wanted a menu that focused on seasonality, local ingredients and passion."
They hired Jef Forsberg, the former owner-chef of the defunct Sunflower in Boulder to oversee the kitchen, which, says Forsbeg, is dedicated to "integrity." And his food, a gastropub-y collection of market-motivated dishes, many of which are designed for sharing, is a big step up from its prior incarnation, with chicken liver mousse, "three-interpretations" of deviled eggs, brandade, borscht and classic English brawn rounding out a citified menu that snubs filets, salmon and wasabi-crusted ahi tuna. Everything, from the stocks to the ketchup to the jams, is made in-house, and regular jaunts to the farmers' markets are par for the course. "My focus is using the freshest ingredients I can find and not manipulating them too much," notes Forsberg.
The same philosophies apply to Heaney's craft cocktail list, which is complemented by craft beers and a boutique wine program with offbeat selections. Heaney's technique-driven cocktails benefit, not surprisingly, from homemade bitters, fresh herbs, syrups, clever garnishes and small batch spirits, and they're the kind of cocktails -- strong and convincing -- that make you extremely grateful for the proximity of a hotel -- and a bed.
I had the opportunity to sample some of Heaney's cocktails, as well as several of Forsberg's dishes, last week, and all I can say is that I wish this place was in my neighborhood. Here's a first look of the space, the cocktails and the food. It's definitely worth the journey.