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Back on Tap – Huske Hardware House

Fans of the restaurant and brewpub will find that its new owners have preserved the best of the old while introducing some significant changes – including all-new furniture, new microbrews, a fresh menu and a cool no-smoking policy – that they believe will help make the business better than ever for its patrons and the ongoing effort to revive the heart of Fayetteville.

Huske, which opened as a restaurant and brewery in 1997, along with the Cameo Art House Theatre and the Rude Awakening coffeehouse, carried downtown’s nightlife for several years. With the opening of some new hot spots in the last several months, including Docks at the Capitol, The Keys and Circa 1885, many believe downtown has turned a corner toward true vitality. Huske helped pave the way.

Larry Clubine serves as vice president of the Downtown Alliance of Fayetteville, a non-profit organization representing the interests of people who live and make their livings downtown. Clubine said Huske’s refurbishment will draw folks farther down Hay Street, which will benefit businesses there, such as the new Green Light Gallery and even the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. Clubine said he believes the brewery’s return will help other downtown restaurants, too.

“The more restaurants we get downtown, the better all will do,” Clubine said.

The new menu features traditional pub food presented with some upscale twists, said Veronica Ripp, executive chef. She will offer favorites from different regions of the country, Irish beer-battered fish and chips to Cajun jambalaya to Carolina shrimp and grits. There are wings, burgers, sandwiches and cheese fries, but Ripp will also introduce some of her favorites including fresh crab cakes and the artichoke and crab dip.

“Attention to detail is extremely important to me,” Ripp said. “Not only is the food going to explode in your mouth, it is going to be appealing to the eye. It will be good home cooking.”

The décor will also be a mix of familiar and new. The bones of the restaurant, from its wooden floors to its sleek industrial design, will be familiar to those who frequented Huske in its former life. But look closely at the details, and you will notice that just about everything has been freshly painted or polished or, like the restrooms, completely renovated. The stained concrete that once topped the bar has been replaced by posh granite that complements new custom woodwork. That’s new carpeting upstairs and fresh gold paint up there on the ceiling. And did you notice the curving lamps that have been installed on the tall, newly-dressed wooden posts?

Tonia and James Collins, who also goes by Josh, along with several other couples, have invested their time, money and effort into transforming Huske into a venue geared toward Fayetteville’s business class. Tonia Collins said they wanted to maintain, even play up, the urban industrial feel of the wide-open interior space. They did that by painting the steel railings bright utility silver, accented by a red handrail. Even the metal pipes and conduits that run along the brick walls and the ceiling have been painted to stand out. The restrooms are brand new, adorned in gray tile and accented with black paint and granite. The walls in the restaurant remain bare red brick, but even they have been spruced up with a shiny coat of clear sealant. The whole interior needed something, Tonia Collins said, and they haven’t settled for second best anywhere.

Acoustic musicians and groups will liven up the night-time scene at the new Huske, Collins said, but the atmosphere, overall, will be more relaxing and less rowdy than it once was. The owners want the restaurant to be a place where adults feel comfortable coming to enjoy a meal, a great beer and a good conversation with friends. The business partners have hired Julie Baggett, a professional brewmaster from Atlanta, to join the team and develop some terrific specialty microbrews. Collins said Ripp, the chef, and Kelly Hanlon, the bar manager, have also come from Atlanta to join the business. All three of the women have worked with each other, in some capacity, in the past.

Huske Hardware House bustled right up to the day it closed last September. Its closure, which came about because of legal and management problems with previous owners, surprised customers and downtown supporters, some of whom feared that it would slow revitalization efforts. Collins said she and her husband and their business partners knew Huske had a robust clientele, and that is one reason they believe so strongly that the new Huske will succeed.

Collins said the goal of the owners and investors was to reopen Huske before this year’s Dogwood Festival, an event that drew thousands of people to downtown streets and Festival Park for a full weekend of special events and concerts. She said it will probably be mid-May before Baggett’s beer will be ready for drinking though. “It will be worth waiting for,” Collins said. In addition to the beers that are brewed on site, the bar will also include an expanded wine menu and a full selection of mixed drinks and bottled beers.

Tonia and James Collins also own Tonia’s Blue Moon Café on Hay Street, a business they have operated for the past two years. James Collins is an active-duty soldier, and many of the other investors have military ties as well. The group has a lease on the Huske Hardware House building, with a five-year option to purchase it. They intend to open a daiquiri bar called Wet Willie’s next door to the brewpub sometime next year. They also plan to transform the building’s upper floors into the Huske Business Center, with offices and conference spaces. It’s an ambitious plan, Collins said. She said hiring the right people will be their key to success. She believes they have, and they’re on their way.