If you think Bain Mattox has enough on his plate with Normal Bar, Automatic Pizza and Buvez, well, he doesn’t. His next project, Hidden Gem, is a collaboration with longtime Normal bartender Sam Frigard and will open in the new building currently going up behind Active Climbing at 615 Barber Street.
Frigard says that, although Hidden Gem will have beer (draft and canned) and wine, he really wants to focus on cocktails. He says, “I really want to make great cocktails that are accessible, not just price-wise but also without the pretension that sometimes comes with cocktail bars.”
Accessible doesn’t mean crappy, though. Frigard is making his sodas from scratch, and he says that he has a good cola, a “Fanta,” a “Sprite” and his own version of Moxie, a gentian-root-flavored bitter cola that originated in Massachusetts and pre-dates Coke. He says, “I adore it, and my version turns the bitterness all the way up. There’s going to be a cocktail featuring it with bourbon, coffee brandy and Worcestershire sauce.”
The citrus juices used in the cocktails will feature what he calls “Super Juice” and describes as using “citric and malic acid to pull oil from the fruit rind. You wind up with a juice that not only tastes better (really!), but also lasts longer while taking less fruit to make.”
Per current trends, Frigard plans to have low- and no-alcohol cocktails available, too. Like Buvez (which it’s not in competition with despite being practically next door), Hidden Gem will be “a TV-free zone with art, books and plants all over the place and turntables behind the bar.” It’s possible live shows will be a thing eventually (Frigard says he misses Go Bar a lot), but he wants to make sure everything else is running smoothly first.
Also: Snacks! Frigard says he plans to offer “The McSorley (named after McSorley’s in NYC who I’m stealing the idea from). It’s a plate of sharp cheddar slices, a sleeve of Saltines, hot brown mustard and sliced raw onion. We’ll probably also have pretzels and chips, and I’m entertaining the possibility of something odd like pickled quail eggs. Apparently in England there’s a snack where you put a pickled egg in a bag of ‘crisps,’ and I’m kind of into the idea of riffing on that!”
When will it open? February? Probably March, more likely. Things have a way of taking as long as possible these days. Pretty Boy, a Vietnamese restaurant from Jerry and Krista Slater with Kenny Nguyen, executive chef of the Slaters’ Expat and one of the folks behind the Side Hustle pop-up, will be in the same building. Nighthawks Lounge, a bar, also from the Slaters, will be opening in the new development on Tracy Street. It seems like a glut of fun places to get a drink and something to eat, but Frigard says, “Bain’s attitude is ‘the more the merrier,’ and I think that’s true. The more cool stuff happening over there, the more it will become a scene. . . I remember when Hi-Lo and the Old Pal opened across from Normal how it made us so much busier.”
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