Few things disrupt the normal order of life like a fire. For local diners, the most jarring aspect of the August 2011 blaze that destroyed the kitchen and large swaths of the roof at The Aristocrat Pub & Restaurant was not the $3 million damage assessment, nor the heroic restoration effort that would ensue. It was that their beloved haunt would be shuttered for months. Late-night quaffing expeditions had to be moved. Sunday brunch plans were wrecked. Would the pub ever regain the lovably rustic charm of dark wood and stained glass?
And yet, The Aristocrat did rise from the ashes. The chummy snarl of customers now waiting inside is reminiscent of the old days, as crowds resumed almost immediately upon its reopening in October. The newly designed bar with more than 60 new taps is especially stunning. A gas-lit fireplace warms the main dining room. And the whole place is set aglow by a veritable archive of lighting styles, some that owner Rick Rising-Moore had kept in storage for years: metal-topped schoolhouse lights, Art Deco cut-glass pendants, glimmering sconces. Thankfully, nearby Fox Art Glass Studios was able to refurbish the iconic art-glass panels throughout the interior that caught all that flattering light.
A few breakfast dishes have been added, along with early-morning hours. Disappointingly, a survey of classic British fare lives up to the nation’s culinary repute: slightly mealy bangers with unremarkable mashed potatoes and unadorned peas straight from the bag.
Better bets are those idiosyncratic choices surely coined in Rising-Moore’s early days in the ’80s. The sweet-sharp combo of strawberries, candied walnuts, green onions, and bleu cheese still seems fresh in the classic Strawberry Blues salad. Sandwiches such as a hearty spinach melt with crunchy bits of bacon and rich spinach-artichoke dip, and a turkey Reuben mortared with cool coleslaw, also continue to hit the mark. Gnarly, golden, and stretching well beyond the bun, the Hoosier tenderloin must compete for the best in town, so deeply seasoned you can slice up the meat and pretend it’s the schnitzel you had once on a trip to Bavaria. The only evidence of culinary renovation on any of our visits may have been an unassuming blueberry buckle cake with big tunnels of juicy berries, a sweet cream-cheese filling, and a crunchy streusel topping. But the real crown to our meal was seeing an old friend back in action, newly attired for the decades ahead.
THE ARISTOCRAT PUB & RESTAURANT
5212 N. College Ave., 317-283-7388, aristocratpub.com
Hours Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m.; Mon.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 8 a.m.–1 a.m.
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the February 2013 issue.