Veteran restaurateur Paul Bouchard made the most of the last two months’ quarantine to fast-forward a major makeover for his Tonic Bar and Grille in Wilmington.
The downtown restaurant has undergone a transformation during the pandemic shut-down, with a fresh new look and significantly expanded indoor and outdoor seating and event areas.
Total floor space has grown from 7,800 square feet to a little over 11,000 to accommodate a larger private dining and special event room that doubles its current capacity.
The main dining room’s footprint, with seating for 85, will remain the same.
New menu, seating and glass-enclosed wine room
Bouchard has also changed up the menu, adding more seafood and lighter fare options while continuing to offer high-quality steaks Tonic is famous for. Dinners will see new buttery pull-apart dinner rolls finished with sea salt delivered to your table in a small, cast iron skillet.
Because any exquisite dining experience ends with at least the temptation of something sinful, Bouchard and Executive Chef Patrick Bradley solicited the advice of former Hotel DuPont executive pastry chef Michele Mitchelle in the creation of the five confections that will be unveiled on the new menu. (See pictures.)
And Bouchard is adding a ten-foot high glass-enclosed wine room customers will see as soon as they enter the restaurant. The walk-in space is nestled between the dining room and bar and will feature wine bottles floating from floor to ceiling on a cable system.
All of it will debut on Monday, June 1 and Bouchard says he’s already got a robust reservation list of regulars itching to dine in.
The work was originally planned to begin later this summer, but when Governor John Carney closed in-restaurant dining on March 17, Bouchard moved quickly to seize the downtime and accelerate Tonic’s facelift.
“We’ve taken over the whole city block,” said Bouchard, explaining that Tonic has expanded into space previously occupied by the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition on W. 11th Street.
Restaurant expansion a commitment to the city
His restaurant now occupies the entire ground floor of the block between North Orange Street and Tatnall Street. “You’ll be able to look through the entire restaurant and see the other end of the block. Pretty cool.”
“We’re doing it because we’re making a firm commitment to being in the city and being a part of the city.”
Bouchard says the changes will allow Tonic to host a wedding or special event with 150 people while still serving customers in the dining room. Previously his banquet space could accommodate 75 people.
Bouchard says he sees potential synergies with his expanded special event space and the close proximity to the Hotel DuPont, which will soon unveil its own new restaurant and bar, where people hoping for a long night out can take advantage of both venues.
“Having multiple quality restaurants downtown is really a good thing. It helps bring people into the city. And people in any of our dining rooms can head over to our bar and listen to live music,” he said.
Megan Gorelick Interiors offered thoughtful advice
From a design standpoint, Bouchard says the change is “almost 180 degrees,” saying the restaurant’s previous look trended “masculine,” and steak-housey. “As my designer puts it, there’s a lot of “jewelry,” a lot of “bling,”” Bouchard remarked, saying, “everything has changed from the lighting, the furniture, the colors to the textures and wallpaper.”
Bouchard credited his designer, Megan Gorelick of Megan Gorelick Interiors with translating his ambitions into a vibrant, inviting dining environment.
“Working with Paul and the team at Tonic was a dream,” effused Gorelick. “They trusted our vision – especially when it seemed a little crazy – and their experienced construction team made the whole process quick and painless.”
The changes include a new bar back, tables, chairs with a soft metallic gold cushions, a mix of lighting fixtures and more.
“When we first spoke with Paul he brought up the idea of “clean edge” to tie in with Tonic’s clean eating,” said Gorelick. “So we made sure that all of our design elements had a clean edge to them- modern and crisp but still sophisticated, like Tonic’s clientele. We warmed the space up with wallpaper, cool lighting, window treatments, and soft seating.”
Gorelick also added rounded Tambour wood paneling, which has a softer look than traditional bead-board, in front of the bar, as a dining room accent, and at the hostess stand.
Despite current restrictions limiting restaurants to 30 percent of capacity, Bouchard says the new Tonic footprint will allow seating of up to 50 people outdoors.
The fact that Tonic’s outdoor seating is covered is a huge plus with the ever-present potential of an occasional summer rain shower. “You’ve got the whole city block, you’ve got a lot of sidewalk to deal with,” he said.