On Wednesday afternoon, a new patio restaurant was born in the heart of downtown. Aptly named Yard Bar, this patio is more of a little brother to the Lumberyard restaurant on Forest.
A concept dreamed up by the ever-innovative Restaurateurs Cary and Suzanne Redfearn, The Yard Bar is tucked into the outdoor courtyard that used to cater to The Grove on Forest’s coffee crowd.
“James [Taylor] closed his coffee shop right as COVID hit in March and that whole, beautiful courtyard just sat there looking so forlorn,” said Cary Redfearn. “So, as it became apparent that outdoor seating would probably be the most comfortable bridge for many our dine-in patrons, I started thinking about how we could convert the patio into an extension for The Lumberyard,” he explained.
With ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) and Laguna’s City Council working to help area restaurants survive the shutdown and continue to thrive, Redfearn says his idea was met with great support.
“Councilwoman Sue Kempf has been particularly awesome in helping us bring this to fruition. It really came together quickly,” said Redfearn.
“The Yard Bar is a perfect, creative example of how restaurants can expand their dining options during a very difficult time,” said Councilwoman Kempf. “I think it’s going to be a big hit.”
The Yard Bar is open from 4 pm – 8 pm weeknights, and until 9 pm (or later, depending) on weekends. This Friday begins live music from 6 pm – 9 pm with Lumberyard returning favorite Bob Hawkins.
A little bit o’ love goes a long way
“Everything in the Yard Bar is sort of a miniaturized version of the Lumberyard,” said Redfearn.
Redfearn ordered a custom-built 7-foot bar to be shipped from the other side of the country. Somehow, it’s in Texas right now, so Redfearn scrambled earlier this week to find a rental bar that would at least allow for the planned Wednesday opening.
The bar anchors the east side of the patio while tables and chairs are scattered throughout. Two large chalkboards announce the day’s mini menu specials in food, specialty cocktails, wine and beer. The nearby kegerator serves up an ever-changing option of three craft beers, too.
In addition to some of Lumberyard’s most popular appetizers (i.e., the Panko Fried Zucchini, Grilled Artichoke and Sweet Potato Fries), the Yard Bar is introducing new summery items such as Olive & Almond plates, Red Crab-stuffed Arancini (flash-fried balls stuffed with crab and risotto) and a larger Mediterranean Platter of roasted garlic hummus, manchego cheese, olives and more.
Patrons simply step up to the bar, order and pay and, then, seek out a free table. With its string lights and greenery all around, it has an energetic and inviting vibe all its own.
Lumberyard retail neighbor George Nelson of Fawn Memories was the first to take a seat at Yard Bar’s Wednesday opening.
“I think this is a fabulous idea,” he said. “The Promenade on Lower Forest is certainly bringing in larger crowds there, and it’s great that our ‘anchor restaurant’ here on this end of Forest is able to create a similar feel. It’s charming here. I think it will prove a great draw.”
Patios are poppin’ everywhere
Meanwhile, restaurants throughout Laguna Beach have been given the green light to innovate workable, expanded patio space with the ability to simply sketch their plans to submit for City approval. Subsequent approved patios and expanded seating areas are popping up everywhere in town, many of them quite creative renditions.
“As a restaurant in this town, when you have to open at 50% occupancy, I don’t know how you’re going to make it,” said Councilwoman Kempf.
“We had some restaurants fail pre-COVID, and others were feeling very shaky. I just wanted the City to do what we could to help these restaurant owners hang on through this unprecedented time.”
When the lockdown happened in March, Kempf was invited to the Laguna Beach Restaurant Association’s weekly calls.
“I just wanted to find out what they were doing and what their plans were so that I could start thinking of ways the City could help,” said Kempf. “Once we realized that outdoor dining space would be a commodity, I started working with the City to expedite temporary use permits (TUPs) for expanded outdoor dining. But the real creativity lies in these restaurant owners and their ideas. They have a sort of sense of humor about it; their energy and camaraderie has been great.”
This week’s City Council meeting also loosened restrictions for retailers. “Some of these decisions are temporary measures and some are more permanent,” said Kempf. “Who knows? Some of the temporary solutions may become longer-term. We’re doing what we feel we can do, and we’re seeing how it all evolves,” she said.