James Casey is aiming to offer New Hartford residents a fresh and interesting experience as he opens Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations.
NEW HARTFORD — James Casey is aiming to offer residents something fresh and interesting, crafted with skill and intuition, as he gets ready to open Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations in the former home of Chatterley’s.
Casey said Thursday he began working in the restaurant business while growing up in Enfield, scooping ice cream at Friendly’s.
It wasn’t glamorous work — he’d come home sticky from leaning into ice cream containers — but he enjoyed it. After watching “Iron Chef” avidly as a teenager, he began to cook, and hasn’t stopped since.
Now, he’s planning to follow his instincts and skill with the new restaurant, which is set to feature a small menu that changes week-to-week and a series of lesser-known drinks and spirits.
“I’m not Italian, I’m not French — it’s not Spanish, it’s not burgers, it’s not high-end, it’s not low-end. It’s whatever we want it to be that week,” said Casey. “We wrote my first menu on Wednesday, and there’s no rhyme nor reason to it. It’s all good stuff, but it’s not one type of cuisine or genre.”
Casey and the other chef at the restaurant, good friend Freddy Marcos, sat down over a meat-and-cheese plate and some wine to create that first menu. Among other dishes, it’ll include a take on grilled shrimp ceviche, mole-braised short rib and a spin on chicken-and-dumplings, he said.
“One rule — make sure it tastes good,” said Casey.
Casey said he enjoys the freedom of cooking. He plans to extend that chance for creativity to other aspects of the restaurant — as an example, the bartenders will create the cocktails, he said.
“If you are invested in something, you are going to try harder to make it better,” said Casey. “I think that’s important — everybody come together and be part of the living, breathing organism that a restaurant is.”
He said he enjoyed a similar sense of freedom when cooking at The Mill at 2T, the Simsbury restaurant that closed roughly two years ago. The menu there changed all the time, and thought of experimenting and refine what they served — to embrace what was good — stuck with him.
Casey said his father, Pat, is a New Hartford resident, the president of the historical society. They knew Paul Samele Jr., the former owner of Chatterley’s, and James Casey decided to take over the space after that restaurant closed in September.
Since then, Casey, with the help of his father, town residents and friends, has worked hard to put his own spin on the place. Among other steps, they’ve taken the walls down to the studs, put up new sheet rock, replaced the bar, set up new bathrooms, stained wood, and are working on new floors now, he said.
“The common theme here is metal and wood, and basically raw materials, which is kind of more my style of everything,” said Casey. “Kind of raw, kind of refined. No rhyme or reason. Just it is what is — keep it simple, stupid.”
The project grew over time as they embraced the vision for the place, and they’re proud of the results, Casey said.
He said he moved to Torrington about a month ago, taking up residence in a home on top of a mountain, looking over farmland — it’s quiet, but he hasn’t been able to spend any time there yet, spending 12-14 hours a day at the new restaurant.
Casey said he’s aiming to open for business on March 28, with soft openings next week. He wants to thank folks and check out how his staff functions in a real-world situation.
It’s exciting to take this next step and see the place he’s planned and labored over become reality, he said.
He hopes the restaurant provides something special and unique for local residents — a consistently changing, intriguing place to eat. It’s not a place for old standbys — it’s a chance to anticipate and revel in something new.
“I want people to be excitedly uncomfortable. It’s like opening up a present on Christmas — you know you’ve got a big box; you don’t know what’s inside, but you know it’s going to probably be pretty good. And I want that same excitement,” said Casey. “I want people to come into this with an open mind and an empty stomach, and trust us to guide them into unknown territory, as far as their eating habits are concerned.”