News of an expanding Hopleaf has kept lovers of the beer hall waiting with baited breath. Construction permits and funding issues had stalled the project, which was originally planned to open last fall, but now things are starting to move. Owner Michael Roper said he has secured the funding and is now awaiting the final permits from the city to begin construction, which could happen at the end of February. Once the permits are in place, Roper said they'll start the build-out and hope for a mid-summer opening. And then the real fun will begin.
Once Hopleaf expands into the next-door space, it'll more than double its size and will finally have a proper kitchen that'll be five times the size of its current kitchen. Chef Ben Sheagren will expand the menu, start offering lunch and experiment with things Hopleaf has never been able to do. They'll install a wood-fired grill and add more ovens. Sheagren will add more meat, poultry and fish dishes and finally add oysters, something Roper said they've wanted to do for a long time, but didn't have the space to shuck them.
Hopleaf will continue to have its specialties, like Montreal brisket, steak frites and mussels, but will add Belgian specialties like Flemish stew. The bar will upgrade the wine program and add an additional 20 draft beer lines to the already 45 currently installed.
As for the space, people will still enter into the original bar, which will remain essentially untouched, save for possibly putting a new wood top on the bar. Roper said they'll add about 100 seats next door, bringing their capacity to around 225, including 10 seats overlooking the new, open kitchen. The new side, which will undergo a complete gut rehab, will have a bar that will basically mirror the current bar and bartenders will be able to go back and forth between them to serve patrons. Guests will access the new side via three entry points, including one on the upper mezzanine level that will now stretch across the length of both buildings.
The new side will have large garage doors that will open onto Clark Street, windows along the south side of the building to allow in natural light and the first floor ceiling will be removed to open up the room, letting guests look down into the space below, and a skylight will be installed. And the floor in front will raise up 17 inches. Roper said they won't add any additional outdoor space out back.
As for the rules, Roper said kids, including infants, will still not be allowed and Hopleaf still won't take reservations. "We're a tavern and at a tavern people finish dinner, have drinks and chat," Roper said. "I want people to linger and drink and talk and be happy."
Once this project is completed, don't expect Roper to look toward opening Hopleaf II or any other place. He said he's done. "This finishes us. I won't ever open another place or expand again," he said. "I feel like I'll be able to exhale for about a month." And likely put back a pint or two.