Step into the Taylor Mansion in Jackson Ward and prepare for a series of revelations. The new project from developer Ron Stallings is at once elegant and exciting, its dynamics conceived to offer seamless entertainment to a downtown that needs it.
The mansion, once home to a banker and clergyman, is now a restaurant, Mansion five26 Southeastern Cuisine. Its dining rooms glow with a brown-and-aqua color scheme and furnishings chosen by Amy Stallings, whose sensitivity to the circa-1895 building shows a penchant for warmth and subtlety. The food matches. Shrimp and grits, milk-braised pork shoulder, spiced salmon, chicken and waffles and a Louisiana-to-Eastern Shore travelogue of classic flavors fit into a less-than-$20 niche with a few higher-priced steak and seafood entrees. “It’s culturally connected cuisine,” Ron Stallings says, “food for the soul.”
Beside the restaurant through the alley lies the secret weapon, The Speakeasy. Guests must learn the password through Twitter or invitation to gain access to the wood-detailed space with a large bar and mezzanine overlooking a party floor that can hold 160 people. It’s a concept that refers to the days of Prohibition, but with an updated application. State-of-the-art sound, high-definition video, lighting and a vintage baby grand piano give the room a range of entertainment options.
Next door, the newly renovated Hippodrome Theater is equally multifunctional. The stage — where Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, James Brown and Ray Charles once performed — is now refurbished and ready for films, parties and “the next generation of R&B, blues, and soul,” Stallings says, “taking the traditions on and giving people a chance to reconnect with Jackson Ward.” Dozens of events are on the books already and a grand opening takes place in mid-November.
Smokers can be accommodated in private dining rooms, including a screening room, upstairs bar and outdoor terraces. “It’s gotta be right,” Stallings says of the three-year renovation, “because it will help Jackson Ward return as a destination, historic entertainment district. People want this so badly they can taste it.” Mansion five26 serves lunch weekdays and dinner Monday through Saturday. 526 N. Second St. 308-2913.
Girl next door: Ettamae’s Café, housed in the neighboring building to Mansion Five26, got a mention in The New York Times last weekend; its banana layer cake and chocolate chess pie were featured in a travel story. Co-owner Laura Bailey Morand says the cafe is offering a holiday dessert pick-up menu for those and other sweets. Ettamaescafe.com.