For Craig Merrell, owner of Downtown Hospitality Group, 2020 has been a year of opportunity.
Craig owns Downtown Social, located at 190 Glen St. in Glens Falls. The “multi-concept restaurant” opened its doors in 2018, branded as a perfect blend of restaurant, wine bar, deli, and bourbon room. The space was previously 190 Grille, and before that, Aimee’s Dinner and a Movie.
Craig admits that from a consumer’s perspective, Downtown Social’s identity has been tough to pinpoint, and he’s okay with it. He’s happy to try new concepts, and listen to the market as to what works.
“I like doing things differently,” said Craig. “Challenges are easier to conquer when you have good people surrounding you.”
While Craig’s operations rarely close, COVID prompted Craig to keep Downtown Social’s sister restaurant, Downtown City Tavern, open for takeout. He and Journey Kerchner-Pirrone, general manager of the Group, along with Calanne Van Laeken, general manager of Downtown Social, opted to take time to work on re-imagining possibilities for the space.
Now with a new executive chef, new family-style takeout menu, and ample space to accommodate social distance, Downtown Social is ready for its next chapter.
Craig was running Downtown City Tavern successfully when Journey approached him to seriously consider the 190 Glen Street space for a new project.
“There is no better location,” said Journey. “It’s the gem of downtown.”
Once Craig committed to the space, major renovations occurred to bring the team’s vision to life. A critical piece of the original concept for the space was to offer a performance stage and dance floor for live, musical performances. The large, split dining area was equipped with giant video screens on the wall, plus comfortable, nightclub-style booths and spacious tables. The largest bar in Glens Falls lines the side of the building, with ample outdoor seating available on the Exchange Street plaza. The back of the building houses The Bourbon Room (formerly Wallabee’s Jazz Bar), offering an intimate, speakeasy-like setting that was used prior to COVID for private events. (Tip: The Bourbon Room will be reopening again soon and is currently available for private parties.)
The initial hybrid dining concept had also included a pizza kitchen and a delicatessen– essentially something for anyone at any point in the day. But through some trial and error, the team opted to grow slower, initially focusing on the main dining space, bourbon room and nightlife.
“Our thinking was that a project of that size couldn’t survive on just lunch and dinner,” said Craig. “We needed to be using the building at all hours of the day. But we got too big too quick. The past few months has been an opportunity to attack issues and position ourselves strongly for the future.”
Trained by Food Network’s Top Chef, Meet Alex Leclair
In late summer, Downtown Social welcomed new executive chef, Alex Leclair.
Previously of 677 Prime in Albany, and then Red Rooster in New York City, Alex trained under Chef Marcus Samuelsson (restaurateur, host of PBS show No Passport Required, judge of The Food Network’s Chopped and winner of Top Chef Masters, among other accolades).
“Alex is a chef with a vision,” said Craig, noting that the response to the new menu has been exceptional.
Chef Alex shared that he loved his experience working in New York City, and had consistent opportunities to work and learn from top chefs. However, once COVID hit, he sought a change of atmosphere and liked what Glens Falls has to offer.
The restaurant has launched Chef Alex’s family-style takeout menu, offering dinners for two, four, or six people at different price points. Options include Tuesday’s chicken dinner with roasted potatoes, gravy, focaccia with garlic butter, seasonal vegetables, and house salad. Wednesday’s meal is meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes, focaccia, seasonal vegetables and house salad, and Thursday’s offer is BBQ ribs & brisket with macaroni and cheese, cornbread with honey butter, vegetable and salad. In addition to the family options, online ordering is available for all menu items.
Some highlights of Chef Alex’s new menu include a New England clam bake, plus generously portioned snacks like crab fritters with chipotle aioli, pretzels with chef-made beer cheese, and ‘Toga Nachos (housemade potato chips, beer cheese, pulled pork, jalapeno, chipotle creme and pickled onions). Focaccia sandwiches, artisanal pizzas, burgers, and a honey-glazed pan seared salmon dinner are more of the delicious options.
While COVID has temporarily ceased nightlife, Craig shared that it was clear pre-pandemic that late night crowds loved the combination of dining, live video screens and entertainment.
Recently, the team launched a party brunch event on Saturdays, which was well-received. Future plans including adding live entertainment and expanding to Sundays.
Whether visiting for brunch, lunch or dinner, as the weather cools, Craig is happy to offer customers a safe and comfortable dining option.
“We have plenty of room inside,” said Craig. “We have so many tools at our disposal. I believe in Glens Falls and the future is bright.”
Special thanks to JMZ Architects for supporting this story.
Says Tenée Casaccio, President of JMZ: “Having our office directly over DTS makes heading home after work a real challenge! As architects, we love what they did with the space; they transformed it from inwardly focused to visible and vibrant. As foodies, we are so excited to welcome Chef Alex to our city; we can’t wait to try everything on the new menu. And as community members, we applaud Calanne and her staff for always welcoming us with smiling faces…oh, and did I mention the delicious drinks?”