Fishbowl kitchen. The Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar has a big picture window on the Fifth Street side where passers-by can watch what's going on in the kitchen.
Photo by Dave McNair
Dish can't think of a recent restaurant opening that created more buzz than the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar. When the place opened on Saturday, September 25, nearly 200 people crowed into the uniquely renovated former A&N clothing store space on the east end of the Downtown Mall, and especially on to the roof-top bar and lounge overlooking the Fifth Street intersection. The following morning, Sunday, there was a note on the door telling the staff, who survived probably one of the biggest opening nights in Mall restaurant history, to take the day off.
This past weekend, the situation was no different. On both Friday and Saturday night the place was packed, and one of the partners in the venture, chef/manager Alex George, weaved his way in and out of the huge crowds.
"I think you've got something big on your hands," Dish told him.
George just sighed, smiled, and shook his head like a man who had had too much of a good thing for a few days.
So what's the place like? Well, it appears to have a split personality. While people quietly enjoy their meals on the first floor, the large sliding glass doors open along a row of tables street-side, the high-back, half-circle booths creating a little intimacy in the middle of the room, the roof-top terrace is thick with bodies trying to get a bartender's attention. It's a young, well-dressed crowd sprinkled with dapper-looking oldsters standing along the roof rail or lounging on red couches.
And it's loud. Heading east along the Mall you begin to hear the muffled roar of conversation and laughter before you pass Five Guys. Along the roof line, dozens of torsos and heads are positioned like animated busts, while those on the street crane their necks to see.
It's a scene that George hopes will continue through the fall and winter, as space heaters are about to be installed on the open-air Skybar. And the food– well, if the fried free-range chicken sandwich and the lobster mac & cheese are any indication, those red couches won't be the only things comforting folks as they party the night away. And that's just on on the roof. Down below, grilled lamb chops and crispy duck breast, seared snapper, and Timber Creek pork chops, and a sautéed bed of chick peas, mustard greens, roma tomatoes, and curry leaves await.