The newest tap house in town will pair brews with traditional Italian pizzas, gourmet burgers and a rotation of seasonal entrees — served with a view from the third story of Ashland's downtown Plaza.
Located at 23 N. Main St. in the former Hong Kong Bar location, Granite Taphouse opens at 4 p.m. today.
"Pretty much everything is house-made," said Marco Traversa, who co-owns the new eatery with business partner and fellow Italian Ryan Bottano.
The specialty will be pizzas fired in an oven with a 2-inch-thick stone base. The crusts will be made from 150-year old sourdough.
The living bread, which Traversa brought from Naples, Italy, is fed weekly using flour and water and expands to create enough dough for all the pizza the Granite Taphouse will serve up.
"It's older than all of us," said Traversa, before tending to the dough in the Taphouse kitchen Thursday. "I need to feed it, actually."
Stirring a bucket of wet sourdough, Traversa explained that the active bacteria in the bread are actually alive.
"It's really hard to stir," he said. "You can see how alive this is — it's really starting to bubble."
Traversa said the Taphouse will feature 17 beers on tap and eight wines, served up by former Alex's bartender Tonie Stewart.
"He came over a couple of weeks after Alex's closed, and we seemed to have a meeting of the minds," said Traversa, who decided to hire Stewart as head bartender.
Access to the third-floor Taphouse is exclusively through an elevator in a covered walkway that cuts through the Plaza businesses adjacent to Thread Hysteria.
The Hong Kong Bar closed after a fire in the walkway in 2012, and owners chose not to reopen it.
Traversa said the building had smoke damage that required some repainting, but the structure, which includes lots of woodwork and rounded ceiling entryways, was intact.
"We fell in love with the architecture," said Traversa, who shipped his uncle's impressive collection of antiques, including mirrors from the Globe Theatre and 300-year-old stained glass art from an English monastery, to decorate the space.
"(My uncle) never found a place for it all, but we have a place now," he said.
Traversa said he thinks the food served will appeal to adults in Ashland and fill a culinary void in the town. A lounge with leather benches and two fireplaces sits near the bar, and Traversa said he hopes to bring in some musicians to offer mellow background music.
"There's a poshness to it," he said. "I think adults will really like coming here."
Head Chef Christopher Kempf was classically trained in traditional French cuisine and worked at the five-star Lebec Fin restaurant in Philadelphia for five years, as well as other restaurants across the country.
"My specialty is kind of classic Americano home cooking," said Kempf, as he worked to prepare the kitchen for today's opening.
With menu items such as lobster dip, an organic king salmon burger or a 12-spice chicken sandwich, Traversa said he hopes people will crave the Taphouse foods long after they head home.
"If you walk in, and you try something, you're going to crave it a few days later," he said.
The Granite Taphouse will offer free tastings during First Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m. today, and be open until 2 a.m. tonight, Saturday and Sunday. It'll close this Monday and Tuesday and then reopen with its permanent schedule, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Monday.
For more information, call the Granite Taphouse at 541-708-5055.
Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.