Downtown bar holds soft opening Wednesday

Apr. 23, 2013 @ 09:33 PM

Located between a shoe repair shop and an attorney’s office, the wine and beer bar Bar Lusconi is expected to open downtown Wednesday in a narrow, 600-square-foot space on East Main Street.

The bar will mostly sell imported wine and beer, said co-owner Timothy Neill, who said he has worked on and off as a bartender for about 20 years. Neill and his business partner, Jesse Gerstl, also own a bar called Pecadillo in Carrboro.

“To be honest, we completely fell in love with the ceiling here,” Neill said of the Durham bar’s location at 117-B E. Main St. downtown, which has a tin ceiling.

Neill said renovations at the space have been ongoing since June of last year. The plaster on the walls has been chipped back to reveal concrete, the floor was replaced with vinyl composition tile, and some of the former wood flooring was used to build the tables and a bar. Neill said he did some renovation work, along with subcontractors.

Neill said they plan to have the windows decorated soon by an installation artist, but the work will not be completed by the soft opening Wednesday.

They plan to offer food such as cheese, charcuterie or olives, and some desserts, Neill said, and to later expand the menu. The beer list includes Belgian, German, Scotland, and Spanish selections, and the wine list includes offerings from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal by the glass for $10.

“We’re a very eccentric wine and beer bar that specializes in old-world products,” Neill said. He said he believes the city’s downtown is evolving in an “organic way,” and said still-empty spaces in the city center are a sign of opportunity.

“We hope it continues to grow in the fashion that it has,” he said.

The opening is a sign of continued retail activity momentum in Durham’s downtown, said Melissa Muir, director of special projects for the downtown-focused economic development group Downtown Durham Inc., following a busy 2012.

“We had last year … 20 new retail businesses open in downtown,” Muir said. “And this year, basically since the beginning of the year, I’ve been meeting with people every week, new clients interested in potentially opening a retail or restaurant business downtown.”

She expects Bar Lusconi to help add activity further down East Main Street.

Shannon Healy, the owner of Alley Twenty Six, a bar that opened downtown on East Chapel Hill Street in September, said the bar, which sells cocktails, has seen monthly business growth.

“Every month has been bigger than the last, regardless of seasonality,” he said, adding that the traffic it’s seen is enough, but he’s always hoping for more. “It’s a viable business. It’s getting there,” he added.

Healy said there is not a “huge concentration” of people living downtown, so he said he sees customers coming from different parts of the Triangle.

“But as that changes, I’m sure the market downtown will be even better,” he said.

He said he sees overflow business from customers of downtown restaurants, which he said do draw people in, and said that with the opening of businesses like the ice cream shop The Parlour downtown, there is more activity on the street between Five Points and the business’ location on East Chapel Hill Street.