Gallows Group owner Rebecca Roth Gullo wanted to expand her business one project at a time—but Banyan represented an opportunity she simply couldn’t resist. She could take over the former home of Hamersley’s Bistro, a large and beloved space that served as a culinary beacon for the South End for years. And she could hire East by Northeast chef/owner Phillip Tang to lead the kitchen. The only hitch was that the chance came soon after she committed to opening Blackbird Doughnuts. But Roth Gullo knew she had to say yes—even if it meant she was in for a hectic year.
“If I hadn’t signed the lease on the doughnut shop a month before I knew about this deal, then we probably wouldn’t have done Blackbird at this point. We would’ve just focused on Banyan,” Roth Gullo says. “But fortunately, it actually is working out.”
The biggest piece of the puzzle, she says, was hiring Tang, whose Chinese small plates had wowed her at his 25-seat Inman Square eatery. They started talking about teaming up a couple of years ago, with Tang eager to cook for a larger audience. When Banyan Bar + Refuge opens in July, his menu will be split into five sections: raw bar and other cold dishes, salads and vegetables, small bites, grilled items and large-format platters. That range of fare, from crudos to a platter full of fried chicken, is what’s really exciting for Tang.
“People can kind of eat in different ways. If you want to come in and share some small plates and have some raw bar, that’s fine. Or if you want to go throw down and have something larger, that’s also an option,” Tang says. “We’re opening the doors to more influences than just Chinese. There’s Southeast Asia, South Asia.”
The Asian influence reaches the beverage program as well, with sake playing a starring role alongside craft cocktails and microbrews. Customers are more likely to sample sake, says COO Seth Yaffe, now that it’s more widely available in smaller formats, as opposed to imposing larger bottles that cost $50 or more. “The single-serving unit is a really fun way to start experimenting and feeling like you can start really learning a lot more about sake by drinking it,” Yaffe says.
Some of that drinking will be done at the bar, which is twice the size of that of Hamersley’s, taking up nearly half the wall along the Clarendon Street side of the space. Although the space has been largely gutted—capacity will expand to an estimated 150 inside and 50 on the front patio—Hamersley’s trademark open kitchen remains in the same spot, only there’s now room for a raw bar and a few counter seats for diners to watch the line. Sure to catch most customers’ eyes are the 20-foot light fixtures made of branches to resemble a banyan tree hanging above the dining room. They’re an apt symbol, as the Gallows Group is branching out with its third South End spot.
“We’re becoming a larger family, bringing more people into it and getting to know new people,” Roth Gullo says. “It drives me nuts, but I love it.”
Banyan Bar + Refuge 553 Tremont St., Boston (617-425-0200)