As the owner of many nightclubs, Ed Kane could be viewed as a gatekeeper to the nightlife scene. But when it came to getting a seat in a cafe near Boston Common, even the co-owner of the Big Night Entertainment Group was out of luck.
“I’m a coffee guy. I love coffee. But you can’t get in anywhere. I challenge you to get in. Everyone’s occupied with laptops. It’s so discouraging,” says Kane, who is set to open Explorateur, a cafe and restaurant that will operate seven days a week on the first floor of the Grand Masonic Lodge at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets. “I thought, ‘I’ll make something that has nice turnover in the front cafe, and if you want to bury yourself in your laptop, we’ll have this amazing library room next door where you can have a meeting or you can just work in there.’”
Slated to open in late August, Explorateur has wire-glass windows that stretch along Tremont Street, adding life—and flower boxes—to what had been a walled-off streetscape. The 66-seat cafe in front has a pastry counter on the left with white subway tiles and large menu boards behind it. The cafe will operate from 7 am till the kitchen closes, serving an array of housemade pastries such as a sourdough-based doughnut made from a 90-year-old starter, plus La Colombe coffee and other grab-and-go treats. Customers will also be able to order from the sit-down breakfast menu, featuring items like lemon ricotta buckwheat pancakes and a soft egg scramble with chives as well as a selection of four different toasts, from avocado-topped to mushroom-topped. The formal lunch menu includes sections for soups, salads, flatbreads, sandwiches and toasts and larger entree-style dishes such as steak frites and chicken paillard. Spillover from the cafe can be accommodated in the adjoining library room (set to open in September), which will seat 88 at long library-style tables.
“If you want to work on your computer for hours and hours, go to the library. There’s tons of room there,” Kane says, hoping the 12-seat communal tables in the front of the cafe will be for customers staying 30 minutes or less. “Nobody does breakfast, lunch and dinner and marries them all successfully. The first restaurant I opened, Stars, was that format. I always wanted to do another one, but it’s 30 years later and so you gotta do it differently.”
In the main room, a raised dining area includes large semicircle banquettes. Chefs Michael Morway and Jacob Mendros will marry French favorites with California twists, serving a dinner menu that features sole meuniere, duck confit, braised short ribs and butternut squash agnolotti as well as flatbreads and large-format dishes such as tomahawk de boeuf and grilled whole branzino. To the right of the dining area are hightop tables and a 36-foot pewter bar, where beverage manager Gina Goyette will serve cafe-inspired cocktails like a Thai iced coffee with sesame-infused Jameson and condensed coconut milk.
Explorateur marks the start of a busy stretch for Big Night, which will open Scorpion Bar in the Seaport later this year. But for Kane, Explorateur holds special meaning. “The project on the waterfront costs much more, but I go there for 10 minutes a day. I love this one,” he says. “That one is beautiful, but I feel like this one will really reflect what I like.”
Explorateur 186 Tremont St., Boston explorateur.com