The Picture Gets Bigger at Henry and Oscar's
“I’m bringing back the two-martini lunch.”
So says Mark Stern, founder of the Big Picture movie theater, of his new venture, Henry and Oscar’s. He’s harkening back to a time when men were men, women were women, and going out meant a big steak, high heels and the owner of your favorite establishment might have been named Vinnie and nicknamed “Knuckles.”
Along with his business partner and wife, Katie Stern, he is transforming a quiet corner of northern Belltown from a space that has sat vacant for over a year (formerly Shallots Asian Bistro) into a “supper and social club” that pays homage to Toots Shor’s and The Pump Room, legendary clubs of New York and Chicago in the 1940s and 50s. “These were the places where famous people and everyday people could be greeted and treated the same way, where there’s a host who makes you feel comfortable and everyone knows the owner,” Stern told me during a peek inside the space.
There is still much work to be done. They took over the lease four months ago and though they’ve been busy making improvements, the long corner space still looks to be only slightly more than a blank slate. The picture Stern paints, however, is a rich one. Black leather booths, dark, plush carpeting, custom granite countertops, chocolate brown tongue and groove wood paneling, walls covered in faux snake skin and Art Deco-inspired column statues of female figures.
The main space will feature a hostess area and the bar and lounge, opening up into a larger room that will serve as the social club area. The opening act that is the golden-era vibe at Big Picture, with its seat-side service and popcorn served in champagne buckets, is elevated to the main event here.
The other major design influence of Henry and Oscar’s, named for Stern’s grandfathers who were theater and night club owners in Chicago, comes from the nostalgia of his childhood growing up in the Midwest, spending his summers fishing and canoeing at rustic resort lodges in Wisconsin. There will also be a fireplace lounge area lorded over by a large antler chandelier and plenty of taxidermy on the walls—”Faux taxidermy,” he stresses. “No animals will be harmed in the making of Henry and Oscar’s.”
The food is a decided rejection of the small portions and high prices of what Stern calls "nouveau cuisine." Dinner entrees will be big, and will come with choice of sides in true American tradition. Martinis, garnished with hand-stuffed bleu cheese olives, will also be big. If you order a piece of carrot cake for dessert, he says, “you’re getting a third of the cake. You won’t be able to finish it. You’re gonna get your money’s worth.”
He has brought in Mark Wadhwani as his head chef, whom he says earned his chops at Ruth’s Chris steakhouses and is exactly the kind of enthusiastic up-and-coming talent he was looking for. There will be weekend brunches as well, spotlighting American classics like steak and eggs, Bananas Foster French Toast and Stern’s boyhood Midwestern favorite, salami and eggs—“with lots of ketchup,” he says.
Despite the “dinner club” moniker, membership won’t be necessary. The Sterns envision the type of club that everyone is part of by virtue of walking through the door. “These are everyman and everywoman joints,” Stern explains. “What they all had in common back in the day was that they all had personality.”
If all goes according to schedule, Henry and Oscar’s is slated to open by Halloween. thebigpicture.net