When will former Chez Nora reopen? "Soon"

Posted at 6:01 AM, Mar 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-21 09:37:34-04

Soon is a relative term.

For the restaurant developer that posted the huge “Coming Soon” signs that cover the windows of the former Chez Nora in Covington, “soon” translates to late April or early May.

That’s the word from Tim Weiss, general manager for the Holland Group, which is deeply immersed in a basement-to-rooftop renovation of a building that will be home to Lisse Steakhuis at 530 Main St. later this spring.

Although it looks as though a ton of work still needs to be done both inside and out, Weiss sounded confident that Lisse, which will have the capacity to handle 400 people, will be open for business inside of a couple of months.

Asked what the renovation will cost, Weiss declined to offer any specifics. He just said over and over: “It’s a lot — you’d be surprised how much it will cost.”

The scheduled opening should dovetail nicely with other new food and drink offerings in Mainstrasse, where four new restaurants have opened in the last six months and three other projects — including Lisse — are underway.

The most immediate debut will be for Mac’s Pizza Pub, 604-606 Main St., which was racing to complete a major renovation this week in hopes of opening by St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday.

Co-owner Mandy Siney said she didn’t know if Mac’s would receive all of its final approvals so it could open. With or without a timely green light from inspectors, though, Siney was optimistic about Mainstrasse.

Her aspirations were fulfilled Thursday, when Mac's opened its doors to the entertainment district.

“I think the area’s on the uptick, and we’re hoping to follow in the footsteps of Over-the-Rhine,” said Siney, referring to the food and drink boom in the Cincinnati neighborhood that’s becoming vibrant again. The Covington location will be the fourth in the region and the first in Kentucky for Mac’s, Siney said.

“It’s feeling more and more like a destination for foodies all of the time,” said Kim Blank, executive director of the Mainstrasse Village Association, which works with businesses and residents in the neighborhood. Besides new places to eat and drink, Blank said another positive sign is that Laura and Mike Noyes, who live in Harrison, Ohio, recently launched Riverside Food Tours, which brings tour groups of about a dozen foodies to five Mainstrasse restaurants on Saturdays.

“It’s kind of like a baby OTR (Over-the-Rhine) the way restaurants are flocking to the area,” said Laura Noyes. “I’d never heard of a food tour before, but, after taking one in Newport, R.I., I told my husband, ‘Gosh, we’ve got to take this back home’”.

Food tours also are being done in Downtown Cincinnati and in Over-the-Rhine, Noyes said.

Once it opens, Noyes said Lisse will be the sixth stop on the tour, which will cost $54 per person for the next few months.

Yet another indicator that the area is getting serious attention from foodies is that Midsummer Harvest, which attracts some of the top chefs in the region, will be held this summer in Mainstrasse, where an elaborate brunch will be served in the Sixth Street promenade between Bakewell and Philadelphia streets.

Stephen Williams, chef and owner of Bouquet at 519 Main St., said his restaurant and several others in Mainstrasse will participate in the event that is being held in Kentucky for the first time. Williams has said he opened Son & Soil at 627 Main St. last September because he and his wife, Jessica, wanted to make quick, healthful food available around lunchtime.

The response to Son & Soil has been good, and upscale Bouquet was named best restaurant in Kentucky earlier this year by Business Insider magazine.

While Noyes said Lisse is locked in to the tours a couple of months in the future, little has been said about what’s going to be on the menu.

Weiss was more than happy to show a reporter a new concrete floor in the basement, a new sprinkler system and new mechanicals throughout the building. When it came to questions about the menu, however, Weiss declined to provide any clues.

As might be expected for a Dutch “steakhuis,” steaks will be offered along with fresh fish and a number of items that are described only as “Dutch inspired,” reflecting the heritage of owner Hans Philippo, who grew up in the town of Lisse in South Holland in the Netherlands.

One thing Weiss would talk about is the hope that Lisse can recapture some of the aura that surrounded Chez Nora, a restaurant and bar in the heart of the Mainstrasse commercial district that had become a kind of after-hours City Hall for some of the people who keep the city running.

Previous owners Jim and Patti Gilliece were devoted to the city and contributed frequently to myriad organizations that tried to make Covington a better place to live. On any given night, the mayor, city commissioners, a state representative or other Covington insiders might be found at Chez Nora’s bar nursing a Manhattan before they headed home.

Weiss said the restaurant will have seating for about 150 on the first floor. That includes seating for 32 on the sidewalk and 32 in the Sixth Street promenade.  Lisse and Frida 602, the Mexican taqueria and mezcal bar that opened in August at 602 Main, will each provide seating for 32 in the promenade.

Second- and third-floor balconies that will project out over the Sixth Street sidewalk also are being added. They will be large enough to accommodate several tables, Weiss said.

The open-air rooftop lounge will be retained, although the bar has been moved inside. Live entertainment will be available on the third floor as well as on the first floor near the main bar, which is being moved to the Sixth Street side of the primary dining room.

In addition to Frida 602, Son & Soil and Mac’s Pizza Pub, Bean Haus Bakery and Café at 640 Main St., owned by Tim Eversole, returned to Mainstrasse last fall after a couple of coffee shops in the building closed. Eversole moved out of the Main Street building more than five years ago to concentrate on his shops in Florence and Findlay Market in Cincinnati.

Two other projects, Commonwealth, at 621 Main St., and Crafts & Vines, at 642 Main, are well underway, although owners could not be reached for comment.

Blank, of the MainStrasse Village Association, said it’s her understanding that Commonwealth is now expected to open during the summer. A sign on the front window of Crafts & Vines, which will serve craft beers and wines, indicates that the owners have received a number of questions about progress — or lack of same — on the project. “Uncorking in the near future — we promise,” the sign read.