by Corin Hirsch
The corner of Main and Union streets in Winooski is returning to its barroom roots on May 1, when Scott Kerner and Wes Hamilton of Montpelier's Three Penny Taproom and Joey Nagy of the Mad Taco open a new craft beer spot, Mule Bar, in the former Pho Pasteur space.
Yes, Pho Pasteur closed this morning, and Mule Bar will take its place in about four weeks. "We've been waiting to get into Winooski for a long time," says Kerner. "This feels like a city with a great vibe." Kerner told Seven Days a few weeks ago that he's "freaking pumped" about the new spot at 38 Main Street.
Mule Bar will have 49 seats — including 16 outside — with a long bar along one wall and a few high-tops along another. The room will be airy, like the dining room at Three Penny — or what contractor Eyrich Stauffer of Stauffer Woodworking calls "Danish modern saloon." Mule Bar will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sunday (more on the food below).
Many Winooski-ites had already heard rumors about Mule Bar, but Kerner and Nagy were reticent to reveal their plans to the media until their proverbial ducks were in a row: a liquor license and a signed lease.
Two weeks ago, Guy Page of the Winooski Bridge was at the Winooski City Council meeting in which Kerner applied (and was approved) for a city liquor license, and Page reported it in his newsletter.
This morning at 11, Kerner and Nagy finally signed their lease in a deal that was brokered by Peter Yee of Yellow Sign Commercial. By 12:30 p.m., they were in the space with Stauffer and their new chef — Jean-Luc Matecat, former chef at Amuse at the Essex.
Matecat says that Mule Bar will have a "local, ever-changing" menu to complement the tap list. He's already started seedlings in his living room for the restaurant's future garden, which will be up the street in the Landry Community Garden.
Matecat's opening menu has an array of elegant pub food, including fish and chips with beer-battered haddock cheeks; a rabbit fricassee with tarragon creme fraiche and ricotta dumplings; a beef-cheek tartine with blue-cheese fondue; and a po'boy with fried Wellfleet oysters, butter lettuce and heirloom tomatoes. "We're putting a huge amount of focus on our charcuterie and cheese program," adds Matecat. The kitchen will get regular fresh fish from Wood Mountain Fish.
Expect 16 draft lines and a "succinct" cocktail and wine list at the bar. Though Kerner didn't want to divulge details, the evidence so far suggests that Mule Bar is remarkably similar to Three Penny — at least in concept. "What we've found is a formula that works," allows Kerner with a shrug. Andrew Leichthammer, currently at Farmhouse Tap & Grill, will run the front of the house.
The partners had long been on the lookout for a spot in the Onion City, and at one point considered leasing Winooski's Moose Lodge with Aaron Josinsky and Laura Wade, who co-own Misery Loves Co. That project never came to fruition.
The bar's name is both a nod to the spinning "mules" of Winooski's textile past, says Kerner, as well as beer mules — kindly souls who transport beer from one part of the world to another.
One sad footnote: Pho Pasteur is no more. Yee says the owners cited long hours and health issues as reasons for closing.
Photo, left to right: Wes Hamilton, Jean-Luc Matecat, Joey Nagy and Scott Kerner