The village of Ephraim – which had been the state’s last remaining dry town – is slowly changing its reputation when it comes to nightlife. Now when the spectacular sunset concludes over Eagle Bay, the twinkle lights come on, and the quaint courtyards and outdoor dining patios near Church Street illuminate the evening with a magical glow.
It’s a scene that has just recently taken shape as a result of lifting the alcohol prohibition in 2016 and a further push for more outdoor dining and drinking this season during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chef’s Hat, which has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for 16 years at 3063 Church St., has adapted and embraced the changes of the past four years and is seeing a positive response from visitors.
“[Once the alcohol ban was lifted], that’s when more places started moving in – first Trixie’s in 2017, then Pearl Wine Cottage last year – and it’s worked out beautifully,” said Chef’s Hat owner Todd Bennett. “I love that customers are noticing the change, and it’s nice to have some things come to life at night.”
For Bennett and his business, the ability to sell beer and wine changed the game. Before that, he was considering moving the restaurant out of Ephraim because the ban was limiting its income. Since the alcohol ban was lifted and beer and wine sales were allowed, the restaurant has gone from focusing on breakfast and lunch sales to having dinner become the busiest time of the day during the past two years. And new this season, Bennett has added a cocktail menu using wine-based spirits that’s getting great feedback.
Despite this season’s challenges – staffing shortages in particular – Bennett said he’s happy with how things have continued to evolve. As public-health recommendations put social-distancing measures in place and emphasized the relative safety of outdoor spaces over indoor ones, Chef’s Hat has adapted, and Bennett has even seen silver linings as well.
“Fortunately, we had some space to utilize,” Bennett said. “We were actually able to create more outdoor space than we have had in the past, and we’ve seen a spike in business for outdoor dining. We’ve really been happy how everything has transpired – minus COVID, of course.”
Now on weekends, visitors to Ephraim have a selection of dining and drinking options within walking distance of each other.
“We are seeing customers come here and have an appetizer and then go for a drink at the wine cottage and Trixie’s, and vice versa,” Bennett said. “Each place is unique and serves different food.”
Pearl Wine Cottage, which Monique and Lars Topelmann opened near the end of the 2019 season, resides in a quaint, remodeled cottage with limited seating. That meant its focus for 2020 shifted to expanding garden service outside.
“The majority of our seating was inside,” Monique said. “It’s small, cozy and intimate. We had to rethink everything.”
They decided to transition all seating outside, setting up additional seating in a side pocket of their property to accommodate more guests while keeping everyone distanced appropriately.
“We have been so fortunate with the weather,” Monique said. “It has been amazing this summer, which makes outdoor dining even more attractive. We [at Pearl Wine Cottage] love being part of the Ephraim experience.”
For beer options, you’ll find an impressive menu of craft brews at Ephraim Coffee Lab’s beer garden – Isely’s Beer Lab – which was added this season around the back of the cafe. The space fits several tables on an outdoor lawn surrounded by tall hedges, giving it a “secret garden” vibe.
Nearby on the connecting Pioneer Lane, Trixie’s has also found innovative ways to serve more guests outdoors. Known for its excellent wine list and original small plates, the restaurant has added more seating outdoors, extending the dimly lit atmosphere of the interior to the front patio.
The after-dark scene that these four establishments create is one that you wouldn’t have expected in or recognized as Ephraim just two years ago. It’s been a somewhat subtle change since 2016, but now this growing pocket of nightlife in Ephraim has, quite literally, begun to shine. If you haven’t had a chance to spend some time strolling the side streets of Ephraim this summer, it’s worth an evening of exploring.
Chef’s Hat is open Thursday – Monday, 8 am – 2 pm, for breakfast and lunch; and 4:45-8 pm for dinner, drinks and dessert. Pearl Wine Cottage is open Wednesday – Saturday, 4-9 pm. Trixie’s is open Thursday – Monday, 5-9 pm. Isely’s Beer Lab is open Thursday – Saturday, 4-9 pm(ish).