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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    A new restaurant is opening in Westerly, on the Pawcatuck River

    Aaron Laipply, left, and James Wayman pose Wednesday on the patio of the former Bridge Restaurant in Westerly, where they will open a new restaurant called River Bar. The two, who also co-own Nana’s in Westerly and Mystic, hope to have this seafood-focused venue up and running later this spring. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Aaron Laipply, left, and James Wayman stand inside what will become River Bar. They hope this new restaurant, in the site where Bridge used to be, later this spring. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Westerly — The site that housed the now-defunct Bridge Restaurant is getting a new life: as River Bar, a restaurant run by the duo that also leads Nana’s in Westerly and Mystic.

    The new venture will be owned by Nana’s James Wayman and Aaron Laipply, along with Josh Welch, who was the majority partner in Bridge.

    Wayman showed a reporter through the site last week, explaining the concept for the restaurant — both its food and its interior.

    River Bar, located on the Pawcatuck River, will likely open in mid-May.

    “As it is with our other places, the basis of our cuisine and bar (here) will be things that are sourced locally from fisheries and farms,” he said.

    Seafood will be a main focus, with dishes made completely from scratch.

    The cuisine will be “global comfort food,” he said. Wayman travels a lot, having trekked to Mexico, Asia and Europe, and he pulls from those experiences for the food he makes.

    The menu will include tacos and dishes from beach towns in Mexico — ceviche, to go with the raw bar — as well as American food like burgers with meat from Welch’s local farm.

    “So (we’re) taking traditional food cultures from around the world, stuff that is comforting and delicious, and using local ingredients to make it happen,” Wayman said.

    He said there’s a version of the menu set, but he hesitates to discuss it in detail because he expects it to change many times before it gets to its final iteration. He did note that Nana’s bakery will make bread and desserts for River Bar. The cocktails will be mezcal and rum focused, and there will be wine from area wineries as well as locally sourced beers.

    Wayman said they recently signed a deal to purchase the assets of the former business, Bridge Restaurant, which closed at the start of 2024 after a 13-year run. They now have a lease but are also in the process of trying to buy the building as well.

    Wayman said the new venue is “a chance for some of our team at our other restaurants to grow a little bit.” For instance, they are bringing chef Kevin English from Nana’s Westerly to run the kitchen at River Bar.

    Wayman and Laipply are familiar with the area food scene. In addition to Nana’s they ran Grass & Bone in Mystic. Wayman worked at Water Street Café in Stonington, The River Tavern in Chester, and Oyster Club in Mystic, and Laipply became general manager at the Engine Room in Mystic.

    The place

    Wayman said he envisions River Bar as someplace that’s comfortable, approachable, friendly and fun.

    He said he’d “love this to be this wonderful community meeting place for the town of Westerly and the surrounding area. What a lovely thing — bring a bunch of friends out here, sit out by the water, have a delicious drink and some good oysters, locally sourced food. It has a lot of potential to have a lot of impact for Westerly.”

    This is one of the first buildings people see when they drive from Pawcatuck into Westerly. Some of the structure was built over the Pawcatuck River; “The river is running under your feet right now,” Wayman told a visitor.

    “It’s such a unique, incredible space. We were very lucky that we’re able to (have a restaurant here),” he said.

    The River Bar team expects to do some minor structural changes on the building and to have a full makeover while preserving the integrity of this historic building (he said it was once a wheelhouse creating energy for a nearby mill). Expect an emphasis on being bright and airy and highlighting the view of the river. The space, which can accommodate about 250 people, is divided into various rooms, and each will have its own personality, Wayman said.

    One of the venue’s most compelling warm-weather elements is its patio, which can seat 100 people and has a deep-water dock so boats can pull up to it.

    “We’re going to be calling this our island bar. Water runs on both sides, so you’re actually on an island,” Wayman said.

    Inside, the second floor has a private dining room. Once renovated, it will have the space for 50 people for rehearsal dinners, meetings and special events.

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