Here’s some excellent news on an otherwise dreary day: The crew that gave us Gastown’s legendary Alibi Room and Mt. Pleasant’s popular Brassneck Brewery are currently building a new restaurant in the old EXP Restaurant & Bar location at 309 West Pender Street.
I spoke with co-owner Nigel Springthorpe in the 3,000 sqft space during the rainstorm yesterday afternoon. He told me that Magnet – that’s the name of the new, beer-focused, counter-service establishment – has been in the works since July. “We’d been looking for the right unicorn spot for 2 to 3 years.” he explained, showing me the plans by local architecture/design firm Simcic + Uhrich while pointing out how the previous tenants had only put in 50 seats. “Our occupancy will be closer to 90.”
It’s a cool looking space that dates back to the area’s boom time between the Great Fire and the First World War — lots of brick and high ceilings. At Nigel’s request, we won’t be publishing any wide-angle shots of the interior during this stage of Magnet’s development, but I can tell you that it will see a variety of seating situations, from corner cloisters of hideaway deuces and bar height communal tables to a row of wall-hugging booths and window stools. Local artist Perrin Grauer will soon start on some colourful installation work, and the branding (which I haven’t seen yet) is being done by Post Projects.
A giant beer fridge will hide the large kitchen at the rear of the restaurant, drawing about 30 lines to the bar at the front, which will pour some ciders and wines, but mostly a constantly rotating selection of beer. To round out the drinks list in local and efficient fashion, Nigel says his team has arranged for local distillers Odd Society and Resurrection to pre-batch several cocktails employing their spirits. (It sounds pretty magnetic already.)
The food concept will be unfussy but high quality, developed and executed by chef Paul Finlay. Finlay’s been cooking at Steveston’s Gudrun Tasting Room for over five years, but he and Nigel go way back. Not only was he the first to take over the pans at the Alibi Room when Nigel purchased it some 13 years ago, but he’s also Nigel’s kid’s namesake. Nigel has dropped hints here and there about the Finlay’s menu, but the most I could get out of him yesterday is that we can expect a mix of small plates, share plates, entrees and snacks. It’s still – like the construction site (managed by Cam Johnson and his Harmony Pacific crew) – very much a work in progress.
We’ll have more on this exciting project soon.