Downtown Spotlight: Hugo's Bar and Grill

Mar 03 2022

We are excited to welcome Hugo’s Bar and Grill to our Capital City!  The new restaurant plans on opening on February 12, and we wish them a successful start.  
What was the evolution of the idea of Hugo's? Who are the key players? 
So, when I stepped down as President of VCFA, I decided to say no to everything for a year. I was thinking about what I wanted to do next. Outside of writing novels, which I continue to do. I ultimately decided whatever I was going to do--in addition to writing novels--was going to be here. I did informal focus groups--what does Montpelier need? I kept hearing a really good mid-priced restaurant. Food has always been a passion of mine. When I was young, I worked in lots of restaurants. In my twenties I was also a food writer. So, I began thinking seriously about this. Then Covid hit. And paradoxically, I wanted to do it even more, because one lesson of this pandemic is how progress will be local, and what is more important than feeding and nourishing people and bringing back a cherished community space. I was shocked to learn that 118 Main Street has been a restaurant since 1880. Renovating it has been amazing.
I've hired some tremendous people to run the day to day. Keith Walker has returned to Vermont to be the Executive chef. Keith is a graduate of the culinary school at Johnson and Wales, and spent four years as sous chef at Hen of Wood in Waterbury. Jana Markow is the General Manager and previously ran Julio's and Sarducci's. Matt McCarthy, one of the founders of Three Penny Taproom, will manage the bar. 
What's the meaning behind the name?
My dog is named Hugo. My daughter named him. We got him in Victory, Vermont. He's named after Victor Hugo. His official name is Hugo of Victory, gentle conqueror of the NEK. But mostly, it's just a good name for a bar and grill. 
What kind of food will Hugo's be offering?  What makes Hugo's unique in the Montpelier restaurant scene?
Hugo's is a new American bistro featuring local produce and meats and the freshest seafood from Boston. It will be affordable, with dishes like steak frites, and moules frites, and burgers, and a range of options for vegetarians. There will be a raw bar, with oysters daily.  Hugo's becomes a foundational restaurant for Montpelier that I think will drive more people to visit our city and support all our restaurants. 
Will there be events or live music?
The top floor, which people might remember as the Chef's table, will open later this spring with its separate entrance as a cocktail piano bar with a late night menu called Upstairs at Hugo's. On weekends, there will be live piano players. During the week, there might be comedy nights, or literary salons, or book readings. And in the basement grotto we might do some live music.  And we have a private dining room there, too. 
How do you foresee the restaurant adapting to Covid-times, and becoming a successful new eatery amidst the turmoil of the current circumstances?
We’re mandating that all employees are fully vaccinated. We're going to ask the same of customers. They will have to provide proof at the door. I'm also optimistic that we are rounding a corner. I am certainly placing a big bet both on the pandemic ending and on Montpelier. 
We must ask, what food is your guilty pleasure?
American cheese. It's so gross and orange, but it melts so well. I don't keep it in the house. 


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