Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Short Order

South Beach meets Shockoe Slip.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Kai, a new club beside Sam Miller’s, brings a lot of blue and a very different feel to Shockoe Slip. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Kai, a new club beside Sam Miller’s, brings a lot of blue and a very different feel to Shockoe Slip.

It takes a little bit of crazy to build a 42-foot bar out of clear acrylic that weighs half a ton. Crazier, fill it with water rushing through at 300 gallons a minute. But when you’re trying to transform an 1860s warehouse into a bar that will attract a bunch of millennials, it’s an idea that suggests South Beach meets Shockoe Slip. And yes, those are bubbles beneath that drink.

The place is Kai, set in the former Taphouse Grill at 1212 E. Cary St. The project is the latest for longtime Sam Miller’s operator Tom Leppert and technology designer Loring Wiggins. Kai has a 32-foot bar back that’s a seamless flat screen, ready to show whatever images a crowd might want to see — themselves, a game, video from the club the night before, or the default bubbles that drive home the water theme represented by the name Kai, which means ocean in Hawaiian.

With more screens set against the original brick walls, “it’s a cool contrast,” Wiggins says, “and not something you’re used to seeing in the Slip.” The space sat empty for 18 months but Leppert predicted a club could help Sam Miller’s gain traction with a younger crowd. DJs will work from a mirrored booth in back, the club’s social media is being manned by Max Duchaine, and manager Steve DeSantis is been busy testing drink recipes and ordering local beers such as Hardywood Park, Legend and Starr Hill.

Chef Rhian Pryor, with more than a dozen years in the Sam Miller’s kitchen, will serve appetizers and black truffle fries, and eventually hopes to add an early-morning breakfast spread to appeal to late-night drinkers. With the demographics of the area showing some 8,000 new, young residents moving in within the past few years, it’s open season for clubs and their potentially significant revenue. Kai operates Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. At other times it’s a private party space.

Blue lights, bubbles, a water-filled bar, and the pulse of a new club in the Slip — “this is what the market is about right now,” Leppert says, “and we have something different to offer.” Kairva.com.

Bean still blazing: Don’t be fooled by the “for lease” sign hanging in front of Baja Bean Co. in the Fan. (Style Weekly incorrectly reported last week that the business was closing.) Jeff Allums says it’s the space upstairs, and not the longtime watering hole, that’s available — although for $5 million, he’ll consider selling. The business at 1520 W. Main St. is thriving, he says, and VCU basketball has helped bring in crowds for Tecate and Legend brews. A sister location in Charlottesville is closing, Allums says.

Meet the neighborhood chefs: A savory twist comes with the West Grace Street candlelight house tour Feb. 11 from 4-8 p.m. In addition to an evening view of six historic homes, there will be wine tastings from Cooper Vineyards and snacks with local chefs. Manny Mendez of Kuba Kuba, Josie Flemotomos from Gus’s Bar and Grill, Melissa Barlow of the Empress, Xavier Beverly from the Camel, Augusto Lopez of the Republic and Chad Stambaugh from Emilio’s will share food and conversation with guests. Tickets are $20 in advance and on sale at Strawberry Fields Flowers and Gifts, Strawberry Street Vineyard, Lucille’s Bakery and Lift Coffee. Westgracestreet.com.

Chang in progress: Peter Chang Café, featuring the Chinese cuisine of the acclaimed chef, opens Feb. 9 at 11424 W. Broad St. Its location, next to the Miss Yu salon in the former Rainbow Buffet space, is relatively unassuming. Chang’s reputation, however, isn’t. He’s the subject of a Stanley Tucci-directed feature film in the works, and gained fame after a Calvin Trillin piece about his peripatetic ways and his memorably spicy Szechwan creations. Chang is reportedly gauging diner interest here for potential expansion downtown.

Coast cleared: Lavish, an apothecary of fine beauty products, is moving into 5806 Grove Ave. where the former seafood restaurant Coast had been. Amy Grigg, owner of the shop, says she signed a lease in December and expects to open in February.

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