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Owners plan February 2001 opening

Atmosphere, good food and beer planned for Blackwater Brewery

JACKSON — The block-size, two-story brick building downtown sits virtually unnoticed, but its location is a diamond in the rough, say its owners, who plan to turn it into a brew pub and beer garden.

“We want to have a place where people feel safe and come back downtown at night,” said David Baria, a trial lawyer, who, along with his business partner, Sandra Smith-Vaniz, and with the support of his wife, Marcie Fyke, an employment attorney, plans to open Blackwater Brewery by next spring. “Marcie and I go downtown to the Mayflower at least once a month on Friday night for dinner and we’re not alone. There’s a subculture that still believes in downtown Jackson. We want to expand the group.”

Smith-Vaniz had owned the building, located on South State Street, immediately adjacent to the railroad track and next door to Iron Horse Grill, for about six years, before Baria’s nephew, a tenant in one of the apartments she rented, hooked up the two. Last January, Baria bought half of the 7,000-square-foot building, which has an estimated worth of nearly $500,000, with a debt remaining of $155,000. Renovation projections are between $500,000 and $600,000, with plans to enhance the New Orleans-style interior with an urban, cutting-edge decor. Total seating for the restaurant, bar and coffeehouse will be 275, with the restaurant accommodating 140 people inside and 40 in the beer garden patio. The bar will seat about 30, with the coffeehouse seating the remainder.

“Sandra has been running the Living Room Coffee House downstairs and renting apartments upstairs,” Baria said. “The coffeehouse will be closed temporarily during renovations for Blackwater Brewery. Then, we’ll move the coffeehouse upstairs and do away with the apartments. It will still be part of Blackwater Brewery, but it will maintain the same feel it has now – like someone’s living room, filled with antique-type, comfortable furniture where there’s a place to sit down and read a book, or read through a file.”

A Pan-Asian menu with moderate-priced entrees is planned, with Vishwesh Bhatt, manager of the Bottletree Bakery and chef at City Grocery, both in Oxford, at the helm. A contract brewer is on tap.

“People will come down here for the novelty once, but they won’t come back if the food isn’t good,” Baria said. “We want to concentrate on good beer and good food. I don’t want people to think there won’t be chicken fingers or pub sandwiches, because we will offer some of that, but it won’t be pub fare only. We’ll offer dishes you might find more on the West Coast.”

While many business owners might grimace at the frequent train traffic, Fyke said it fits the ambience perfectly.

“Trains come by every 10 to 15 minutes, but we think that’s great,” she said. “Our vision is to sit at the bar, look through the brew equipment and see the trains go by.”

When the Living Room Coffee House reopens, which features live music Friday and Saturday, mostly jazz, live music will probably be added Thursday, too, Baria said.

Fyke, who, with Baria, has three children under the age of six, calls the courtyard “a kid-friendly beer garden.”

“Even though it seems strange for a brew pub, we want to cater to kids,” she said. “For example, on the weekends, we want to have a jazz brunch where people can sit outside in the enclosed courtyard and kids can run around while their parents eat and chat. Parents know their children are safe.”

Choosing a name for the brew pub was the most difficult part of the process, Baria said.

“We went through a gazillion names, it seems, before we ended up with Blackwater Brewery,” he said. “We wanted something that had a connection to the city, the state and the railroad. We ended up with a logo design of a crescent moon over a flat horizon, with black river coming out from a vanishing point into the foreground, and it seemed to fit the Mississippi River scene.”

Valet parking will be provided and security concerns have been addressed, Baria said.

“We have an anticipated opening of next February,” he said. “We’re hosting two small investor dinner parties the first week in July, with a big investor party at the brew pub on July 21. We’ve been very interested in the rejuvenation of downtown Jackson and are finding out that others are, too.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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