Craft Beer, Tapas & THE AVOCADO: Food trend hits downtown Watertown

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / NNY LIVING
Spokes Craft Beer & Tapas restaurant’s Ahi Spokes dish, with seared tuna, mango-avocado salsa and wasabi cream, sits on a table in the restaurant’s downtown Watertown location.

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Watertown’s Agape Shoppe Gives Back Locally,Globally

CHRISTIAN K. LEE / NNY LIVING
General Manager Meg Graczyk at the Agape Shoppe, located in downtown Watertown. 

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Craft beer and tapas restaurant on tap for Public Square

spanish-tapas-and-cold-beer-in-santiago

Libby Wheeler remembers singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” on long school bus trips when she was a kid.

Now she and two friends are incorporating the children’s song in the lengthy beer menu at a craft beer and tapas restaurant that they’re opening in an empty Public Square storefront next to the Crystal Restaurant.

Beth A. Bodah, Eva Pierce and Ms. Wheeler soon will operate Spokes Craft Beer and Tapas Restaurant in a building at 81 Public Square, owned by the Crystal’s Peter J. Dephtereos.

The tapas restaurant will offer 99 different kinds of beers at all times, along with a variety of appetizers on small plates that patrons share with each other.

The owners will encourage patrons to eventually try all 99, Mrs. Bodah said.

“But not all at one time,” she joked.

In recent years, some customers of the iconic Crystal have speculated what was in store for the three-story building next door after it was renovated a couple of years ago yet still sat vacant.

But the Crystal Restaurant will remain in its home of 91 years.

“We’re staying here,” Ms. Wheeler said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Ms. Wheeler, who manages the Crystal, stressed that Spokes will be an entirely different venture.

About six months ago, the three friends were having a casual conversation while sitting around a large round table at the back of the Crystal when the idea of opening a restaurant in the vacant storefront came up.

“We were just saying that we really should do something,” Ms. Wheeler said.

The three friends have known each other for years and met when Mrs. Pierce’s and Mrs. Bodah’s daughters worked with Ms. Wheeler at the Crystal. Mrs. Pierce began waitressing there just a few months ago.

They got the idea for the tapas after visiting similar restaurants during their travels. Syracuse and Kingston are the closest ones, Mrs. Bodah said.

“It’s unique to Watertown,” Ms. Wheeler said. “There’s nothing like it here.”

The restaurant takes its name from Mrs. Pierce’s love for cycling around the north country.

Describing it as an American version of a tapas, Spokes will offer small plates of cheese, veggies, fruit, meats and desserts. Ten beers on tap also will be served.

With plans to open after the first of the year, the three friends are still working on plans for the business and obtaining necessary permits. Initially, eight to 10 employees will work there.

Plans also call for offering an open air cafe as part of Spokes when the weather permits. Details on that plan are still being worked out.

While not directly involved in the craft beer bar, Mr. Dephtereos, who co-owns the Crystal, will help the three women as needed, he said.

The venture came up during Thursday’s Watertown Local Development Corp.’s loan fund committee meeting. Committee members agreed to give the business a rent subsidy.

The local development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, is offering the rent subsidy program to attract businesses into downtown and fill vacant storefronts that dot the business district.

The Watertown Trust will pay half of Spoke’s $2,000 monthly rent, said board members, who said the business will be a good fit for downtown.

“It’s what you’re trying to do downtown,” board member Jeffrey T. Fallon said.

The news of the tapas restaurant comes at a time when there’s talk about a wine bar opening in the Franklin Building, a micro-brewery in the nearby Lincoln Building and a brewery on Vanduzee Street, near the Black River.

A handful of food-related businesses, including a juice bar in a yoga studio, Mr. Bigg’s restaurant, a grocery store and an internet coffee shop, also have opened in the downtown business district.