Owners to open restaurant in Lyric Hall and eventually plan to restore ballroom
New London - The new owners of the Lyric Hall building were weighing their options several weeks ago about what to do with the century-old building steeped in local history when they heard about the city's annual Fall Food Stroll.
They brought back those who worked in the former Lyric Cafe and opened up for the stroll. Lines formed out the door for their crostinis topped with portobella mushrooms and balsamic vinegar reduction. They won third place in the Oct. 17 stroll.
"We took a risk,'' said new owner James Brown of New Haven, who bought the building at 243 State St. in August with his wife Natalya Brown. "Now it feels like it was meant to be."
Lyric Hall, once home to dance recitals, concerts and theater productions, is only one part of the history of the 5,092-square-foot building. Previous owners have proposed condominiums, an international theater and exchange program and a Russian theater and arts exchange.
The first floor, which for years was the Whaler Restaurant, has been home to a frame shop, a gift store and most recently, the Lyric Cafe.
Edible Arrangements and restaurant
Brown intends to open an Edible Arrangements shop where the Lyric Cafe was, and turn the adjoining storefront into the Steaming Kettle restaurant. The restaurant will be up and running in November, he said, offering breakfast and lunch. The Edible Arrangements shop will open a few months later.
Brown, who owns three Edible Arrangement franchises in Waterford, Westerly and Madison, was looking for a downtown storefront for a fourth location when he came across the State Street building. He purchased the three-story brick structure for $215,000, but quickly realized he had bought more than a couple storefronts.
When he saw the second floor and the former Lyric Hall - he knew he wanted to do something with the space.
Many people who came to the food stroll shared their memories of the building, Brown said, and offered support for plans to eventually reopen the second floor and rent it out for community events.
"Things keep smacking you in the face. It wakes you up,'' Brown said during an interview last week in the building. "I think people really want this and you can't ignore that."
During the stroll, he handed out flyers "Help Lyric Hall Re-Open Its Doors,'' asking for volunteers to help with general labor, painting and promotions.
"We want the community to have input because its part of the New London culture,'' Brown said.
Eventually, Brown said he'd like to open the hall to theater companies for cabaret-style shows, dances, open-microphone nights, dance and musical theater. But those plans will be years in the making, he said. He estimates will cost $300,000 to $500,000 to renovate the hall.
Kristy Benson of Moodus, a friend of Brown's, who attended the stroll, helped hand out the fliers looking for volunteers to help restore the building.
"We want to find people who are interested in the hall,'' Benson said last week. "People seem excited."
She said she's going to organize a Facebook page so the community will be kept informed about the progress of the project. She said hopefully they can apply for grants to help with the restoration.
"When we came in here, it took our breath away,'' she said. "The opportunity for New London is amazing. ... We're definitely excited but it's going to be a long, slow process.''
Those interested in the building or Brown's plans can contact Benson at email@example.com or call (860) 918-2344.