Gaslight Reborn -August 2019

by: Brian Bushard

photography by: Bill Hoenk

Callie Kever and Caleb Cressman sat behind the bar, turning their heads to the newly-completed stage behind them, and the restaurant tables to their right, imagining how the night would play out and making final preparations for the dinner rush. It was the culmination of two years’ work: The conversion of the former Starlight movie theater into The Gaslight was complete.

On Dec. 31, 2017, the Starlight Theater and Café, a North Union Street go-to for drinks, a movie and an occasional show, shut its doors for the last time. The old theater and café sat empty for a year and a half, after a nearly 40-year run.

There had been rumors circulating around town about its probable closing, talk that the movie industry made it difficult for independent theaters to survive financially. Cressman and Kever heard those rumors and had their own idea.

That was to transition it into a music venue, bar and restaurant, bringing in Nautilus’ Liam Mackey and Clinton Terry to run the restaurant side of the operation, and preserving a downtown legacy of live music that had mostly moved to mid-island venues. It came to fruition on a Thursday night in June, when the doors to the new venue opened for the first time. Its name, The Gaslight, is a tribute to the original name of the former theater, founded by Rob Mitchell..

“We wanted some place where you could go post-dinner, or even where you could grab dinner and watch a show,” Kever said. “You could even just be popping your head in, not even drinking, and listen to some live music, that’s what we wanted to do. There’s nothing else like that downtown.”

Inside, a bright red curtain, a six-foot octopus mural by local artist Kevin Stanton, a row of vintage speakers and a neon yellow sign above the stage beckon from across the wooden bar. A drum kit, guitars, amps and speakers sit on a stage in front of the dining area, directly below the sign: “GASLIGHT.”

A vending machine by the doorway is another new fixture. It doesn’t dispense soda cans or bags of chips. Put a token from the bar into this one, and a small glass bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne funnels through a mechanism that keeps it from bubbling over. It’s one of only 39 champagne vending machines in the country, Terry said.

The Starlight was one of Terry’s first stops when he came to the island eight years ago.

“I probably was watching one of Caleb’s bands,” he said, jokingly, about Cressman’s list of bands that now includes gypsy band Coq Au Vin and country-twang Buckle & Shake.

Two years after Terry moved to Nantucket, he helped found Nautilus with Mackey, taking over the bar, while Mackey created the menu. A lot of its cocktails are carrying over to The Gaslight, he said. Other drinks are new, including the Thug’s Passion, a combination of Hennessy cognac, lemon, lime, cranberry juice and champagne. The name is based on Terry’s obsession with hiphop artist Tupac Shakur.

“I specialize in nonsensical fun,” Terry said. “Here, the drinks are hip-hop and rock-and-roll. You write from what you know, and drinks are my creative outlook. I can’t play the guitar, but I can manipulate fruit, so I take something that might be inedible and make it into something special. There’s no reason not to use who I am to tell the story. It’s a very personal experience.”

Cressman and Kever approached Terry and Mackey with their plan to convert the theater into a bar and live-music venue. Cressman said it took less than a week to convince them to jump on board.

“I said, we can only do it if we get really good restaurant guys to do it with us,” he said. “I was apprehensive turning it into a bar and restaurant. We have experience in music, but we don’t know anything about food and drinks.”

Terry was ready to help. Bringing in new drinks, while revitalizing the downtown space and having live music playing late into the night, seven nights and three afternoons a week was something of which he wanted to be a part.

“It’s variety. It’s spice of life,” he said. “There are so many other places that operate at such a high level – Straight Wharf, Dune, American Seasons, Cru – everybody fits their own little niche, but this type of place is something that was always missing. The Starlight did its own music, but to be able to make it a destination, some place to go in town, was big.”

The dining room now occupies the same space as the stage, where the movie screen had been. A projector is mounted on the ceiling, which Cressman said can be used to show the occasional movie and sporting events during the offseason.

Cressman spent the winter working on renovations to the ceiling, installing a sound-modification system to keep noise from escaping, and adding spotlights, shining yellow, red and blue on the stage. The partition that separated the Starlight’s dining area from the movie theater was also removed, enlarging the dining area and giving the entire building an open feel.

“The ceiling in the bar area and the windows are the only original things,” Kever said.

“For me, I drew a little bit of inspiration from Brooklyn restaurants, where you walk in through a tiny door, and there’s an awesome music venue on the other side.”

The kitchen is entirely new and features a wok station and a yakitori grill – a Japanese-style, open-flame surface he uses to cook skewered meats, from Mediterranean za’atar chicken wings, to a more Japanese-style chicken negi with soy glaze, to duck hearts in yuzu kosho chili.

The noodles are made in-house. The handrolled sushi and sashimi plates range from spicy tuna to fluke, scallops and avocado.

It’s a menu that touches on the flavors of Asia, using fresh ingredients. The plates are small, which lends itself to ordering, and sharing, several dishes, a style Mackey introduced at Nautilus six years ago.

“A small kitchen is great for small plates. The space here is big, but the kitchen is more of a hot line. The hood is nine feet long and we couldn’t change it. You’re cooking all the time and constantly sending food out,” Mackey said.

“We want the food to be playful like the space is, and we’re having a lot of fun with the food. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously, but we are taking the ingredients and the sourcing of the ingredients very seriously. Once we get highquality ingredients in, then it’s easy to riff and have fun with everything, because it has a foundation of quality.”

Making unique meals and drinks with quality ingredients was also important for Terry, a classically-trained chef himself, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America. Before coming to Nautilus, he worked at a bar outside Washington, D.C. called PX, an upscale throwback to a speakeasy that he said was at the forefront of the craft cocktail movement.

But at The Gaslight, Terry said he’s happy wearing board shorts and a Hawaiian shirt while making high-end cocktails.

“I’ve never been a traditional guy. I’ve always marched to my own drum. Whether that’s good or bad is up for discussion. But I’ve always wanted to show my vision to the world. I like classic cocktails, but I like doing my own thing. That’s what’s inspiring for me, that constant innovation and change,” Terry said.

“Liam said, if you asked 16-year-old me if I wanted to serve craft cocktails and build a music venue, I would have said, ‘well of course.’ And that’s just about what happened.”

The Gaslight was high-energy on opening night as Coq Au Vin took the stage. It has an ongoing Friday-night gig at the restaurant, with Buckle & Shake playing Wednesdays, and island

reggae band Foggy Roots playing Thursdays. This month, Kever is bringing in Miss Fairchild a Boston-based R&B band with Nantucket roots, as well as the New York folk duo The Brothers Brothers, electronic artist Kelly Zutrau and folk singer Lola Kirke (Aug. 16). “We’re getting people who have never played on Nantucket before, people who have never heard of Nantucket before, and that’s pretty exciting,” Kever said.

“I hope that our year-round community will come in when the lines are not out the door in September and stick it out. We’re going to be open year-round. We’re really grateful for the success of our first week, but we definitely are looking forward to the offseason when we can open this up to some interesting programming.” ///

Brian Bushard is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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