Eating at a fine bar is an underrated pleasure.
Good food, good drink, good friends–look for that sort of bonhomie when the Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen opens in April in Morristown’s historic Vail Mansion, New York restaurateur Chris Cannon said on Wednesday
“Food should make people happy, put them in a good frame of mind, so they have a good time with their guests. The food should be good. But it’s about the people. Conviviality is the most important thing to me,” he said, shortly after Vail Mansion developers announced that Chris had signed a lease.
The Mountain Lakes resident is well known in New York dining circles for his involvement in Italian restaurants such as Palio, Remi, L’Impero, Convivio, Alto, All’Onda and Marea.
Wednesday’s announcement culminates months of discussions with the town, and years of searching by Roseland and Woodmont Properties for a commercial tenant to occupy the palazzo-style Italian Renaissance mansion built by AT&T magnate Theodore Vail during World War I.
Luxury condos are a fairly recent addition to a site that served as Morristown’s town hall for decades.
It’s a beautiful edifice–and an imposing one, Chris said.
“We need to bring a lot of life to it. The customers bring the life to it.”
‘OYSTERS OR A BURGER’
Jockey Hollow’s ground floor will be a brasserie, a place with a “very accessible, upscale casual environment, where you can sit down with a plate of oysters or a burger,” Chris said. It should be a popular stop before or after a show at the Mayo Performing Arts Center next door, “user-friendly for all types of users of all ages.” Reservations won’t be required.
If there is a model for this, Chris said, it might be Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood.
“You conceptualize a restaurant so it fits your community. If it was ridiculously expensive, a fancy-schmancy place, it would not be very busy. That’s not the kind of place I like to eat. This will be a nice place where you can come and have some oysters and a glass of wine.”
And, if you’re still hungry, you can go upstairs for white-tablecloth dining with American and Italian-inspired cuisine. The second floor will have about 70 tables. Private parties will be in the basement level.
Chris won’t charge New York prices, he said, because he won’t need to. In Manhattan, he said, up to 30 percent of a customer’s meal tab may go toward the restaurant’s rent, which can run as high as $200 per square foot.
“If you’re paying $800 a couple, you’re not going to have a good time,” Chris said. “I don’t care how rich you are, $800 a couple is a lot.”
Although rents are lower in Morristown, he has agreed to pay the town $500,000 over 10 years to secure a state concessionaire’s permit to serve alcohol.
PAINTINGS, PATIOS AND OYSTER FARMS
Chris said he’s always been partial to dining in a bar.
“If it’s designed really well, and it’s very attractive and comfortable to sit there, that’s even better,” he said.
Along those lines, he has commissioned contemporary paintings from eight artists. He does not anticipate major architectural changes–the Vail Mansion is a historic landmark and “it’s great the way it is.”
Patio dining is a possibility, he added.
If it was ridiculously expensive, a fancy-schmancy place, it would not be very busy. That’s not the kind of place I like to eat. This will be a nice place where you can come and have some oysters and a glass of wine.–Chris Cannon, describing his upcoming Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen
In keeping with Chris’ farm-to-table ethos, oysters will come from an oyster farm in Mantoloking, he said. He also looks forward to the short commute from Mountain Lakes, so he can spend more time with his three young children.
“The location is ideal,” he said. “They need some fresh blood in restaurants in New Jersey. Hopefully, everyone in New Jersey will appreciate and enjoy” the Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen.
So what will it look like a year from now?
“Hopefully, a very busy restaurant!”