Wall and Golden manned the taps and served the crab legs at Awful Arthur’s when it opened in the late ’80s, and Williams cooked and ran the Island Grill. The Bottom was on the rise back then. “I’d been working in the slip since 50-cent highballs at the Bus-Stop, where I worked,” Golden says. “It was crazy.”
Golden and Williams “talked all the time about opening our own [place] someday,” Golden recalls. “Mark Merhige had just finished developing this area, and after a while we settled on [the Hard Shell] spot, mainly because it had the patio, but because it was about the size we were looking for.”
With help from investors, family and the bank, they opened The Hard Shell in 1995, when it was the only place on the block besides The Frog & the Redneck. Europa followed a few years later. Golden runs The Hard Shell and Williams runs Europa, and they bring a personal style to each. “The theory ... was that it would be easy to open restaurants right next door to each other and promote the area as well,” Golden says. “They kind of play off each other in certain ways, with very different menus, but similar presentation and style.”
Could be a case of seniority, but The Hard Shell definitely gets the most attention. In fact, it’s become a bit of a haven for celebrities passing through town. Gwyneth Paltrow and Philip Seymour Hoffman have been spotted there, and people still talk about the time Tom Berringer bought a Hard Shell hat and wore it all over town.
Europa is also gaining a reputation with its nightlife. The restaurant’s downstairs lounge has become a hip stop for the older and better-heeled club set looking for a classy place to hear new dance music.
In 2000, Williams, Golden and Wall bought the Hill Café. The place had a 10-year history to uphold. Golden says they kept the comfort food and neighborhood feel, but made the menu and hours more consistent.
With the Canal Walk getting more attention every year, and development going on all over downtown, the Bottom and Church Hill, Golden’s sustaining belief in the Bottom seems to be paying off. “It just seemed like development would happen all around us,” he recalls thinking when he first went into business. Time seems to be proving him right. — Wayne MeltonMore cover stories