Yats owners pull out of upscale bar downtown

September 9, 2010

BarYats is dead. Long live The Bar at The Ambassador.

Two weeks after the soft launch of the long-awaited restaurant and bar on the first floor of The Ambassador apartment building downtown, Yats Restaurants has pulled out of the enterprise, leaving partner Tom Megenhardt to go it alone.
Megenhardt and his staff are ironing out a few more details this week, then will close over the weekend before opening for lunch and dinner on Monday.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the bar business,” said Megenhardt, who owned what is now Bourbon Street Distillery with his late brother John during the 1980s and 1990s. “A bottle of Budweiser is the same everywhere. The food is what brings people in the door.”

He said Yats owner Joe Vuskovich helped in planning The Bar, but didn’t have a financial stake in the business.

“We were more partners of the soul,” said Megenhardt, 61.

Joe and Gina Vuskovich announced their decision to step back from the BarYats concept on Yats’ Facebook page Wednesday night.

“While we have invested a year in BarYats, we’ve decided to focus on expanding our core Yats concept, one restaurant at a time [through franchising],” Gina Vuskovich wrote. “This makes much more sense to us rather than expanding into the bar business right now.”

Founded in 2001 as a single Cajun Creole eatery south of Broad Ripple, Yats now has four locations in Indianapolis and Greenwood. A Bloomington location closed in 2006.

The order-at-the-counter restaurants feature a limited, fixed-price menu with staples like etoufee, gumbo and jambalaya.

The BarYats concept was born last October, when building owner The Buckingham Cos. announced plans for an upscale restaurant and bar at 43 E. 9th St., next to the Central Library. Megenhardt said BarYats was just a working name.

Built in 1924, the Ambassador is on the edge of the historic St. Joseph neighborhood and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983. Its 60 one-bedroom apartments are fully leased, said Megenhardt, who rented the two apartments over the kitchen to avoid annoying his neighbors.

He was able to retain the entire 12-person staff and is refining the “classics”-inspired menu, which he said will feature dinner entrees in the $15-$18 range. The BarYats signs that have covered the bar’s windows for 11 months were removed this week. Megenhardt suspects they helped lure tenants.

Inside, the 2,400-square-foot space is well-appointed, with dark walls and dark wood tables. Booths line the exterior walls, and an impressive marble bar occupies center stage.

Megenhardt, who also works in commercial real estate, wants to recreate a bit of the “Little Broadway” vibe the neighborhood had in the 1960s, when that part of Pennsylvania Street was cluttered with restaurants, bars, nightclubs and after-hours joints.

“It’s sophisticated but fun,” he said.

There’s one difference from the old days, though: No smoking is allowed.

“The world’s going that way anyway,” Megenhardt said.


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