Nov. 5, 2004 Northsiders driving by the site of the former Bryan's Bar and Restaurant the last three months, wondering at the fate of their beloved neighborhood eatery and gathering place, found hope recently when a sign went up announcing "opening soon."
Hope turned to joy Monday, when a new sign appeared "now open."
A step inside the newly painted and decorated restaurant, now named The North Drop, is greeted by the aroma of simmering lobster bisque mixed with island and Cajun spices.
A quick look around reveals changes, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. First, one is greeted just inside the door by a hostess stand, complete with hostess. The sunburst sconces placed on the walls around the large room are lighted low enough to give a new dining-out feel to the once-rowdy combination sports bar-dart club-pool room-bar area. Candlelit tables occupy the space where once lived a pool table. And potted palms soften the corners of the enormous bar and peek out between tables and from corners of the large square room, adding to the tropical feeling of the wide-open dining room.
On the porch, which overlooks Hull Bay, an almost- never- used roll-out awning has been replaced by colorful umbrellas scattered about. Hard to say whether they will be any more effective than the awning against the occasional rain shower, but they offer a festive element to the al fresco dining experience. Either way, given the new atmosphere inside, diners should be far less disappointed to be forced inside by rain, given the softer atmosphere and the absence of televisions blaring from the corners of the room. (Two televisions are still found above the bar, but they didn't appear to be giving off sound Monday night.)
Also outside, the heavy wrought iron tables and chairs have been replaced with teak, while torches line the railings.
So much for the new; what remains of the old is the familiar staff led by chef Romulo Moraes. Moraes's continued presence brings consistency to the simple fare, but with new additions. Thomas Moritz, one of the three new owners, said he wanted to keep a modest menu supplemented by specials that would allow "Chef Romulo" to show off his skills while offering regular and interesting additions to the dining options.
A sampling of the nightly specials on opening night included an appetizer portobello mushroom stuffed with roasted red pepper and bleu cheese, and a tuna steak grilled with Cajun spices accompanied by a Pico Gallo sauce. Both came as generous portions.
To the standard appetizer menu Romulo, has added New Zealand green lip mussels, spicy coconut scallops and conch fritters.
All the standard Bryan's sandwiches remain, along with the pasta.
Most of the entrees sound vaguely familiar from the old days, including the fresh catch of the day and the famous Barbados flying fish. A few not-so-familiar dishes include spicy curry scallops and Moqueca, described as a native Brazilian dish with shrimp, fresh fish-dende oil, coconut milk and spices.
You can still get a 14 oz. rib eye steak, ribs or a New York Strip, and at mostly the same reasonable prices.
Moritz was clear that he wanted to keep The North Drop affordable. "I would like a family of four to feel comfortable coming here."
Moritz said he does not plan to run the restaurant. He has happily turned the management duties over to Moraes.
It was not really his intention to open a restaurant, in fact. Moritz and his partners Dan Sullivan and Daren Keeter came to the V.I. to start a financial services business. They bought the property on Hull Bay Road to use as an office building. "We loved the location."
But when he found out how much the restaurant meant to the locals he said, "Why not? Let's try it," and set about the remodeling which took about two and a half months.
"We had hoped to open Oct. 22," he said. "But it took a little longer than we expected." A week and a half, to be exact, something that most people who have managed such projects in the V.I. would find astounding.
Maybe it went so well because he and Moraes did a lot of the work themselves.
Moraes, who had been the chef at the former Bryan's for five years, said he and Moritz refinished the tables inside, sanding and varnishing the shiny new wooden tops themselves "side by side."
Locals stopped by to congratulate Moritz commenting how happy they were to have the restaurant open again. "We missed it," Bill Arnet, a regular at the old place, said.
"It's beautiful," his wife Nikki added, commenting specifically on the new paint and wall hangings. "Isn't this great?"
The North Drop is open daily and serving from 4 until 11 p.m. Moritz has plans to offer Sunday brunch soon.
Phone 340-775-5098 for information, reservations or to call in a take-out meal.
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