In the carcass of what once was fine dining restaurant The Berlin, The Rich Uncle Tavern is taking its place, opening June 5. Although the restaurants owners, Ignite Restaurant Group, remain the same, the establishment has been going under heavy renovations and new branding for the majority of May.
“We felt like it was time and that the place needed to change,” Neil Huber, co-owner of Ignite Restaurant Group, said.
“We wanted to make a place that people could come and have a burger [with] a shareable atmosphere. People can come and have a drink and not feel like they need to go through the entire fine dining experience.”
The Berlin first opened its doors in 2015 and the establishment quickly cemented itself in the community as a restaurant you can celebrate milestones at. While the restaurant did thrive, I’m in the opinion that The Rich Uncle Tavern’s unique and more casual atmosphere will be like a pea in a pod among the other unique and niche stores and restaurants on King Street.
“This whole space is becoming more approachable and easy to access. People can come in, have a drink and enjoy heightened pub food and just relax,” Huber said as we continued to discuss what people can expect when Rich Uncle’s doors open.
Huber led me upstairs to a large den where the event venue was deep into construction, but he went on to explain his vision for when it was done.
“We’re turning it into what we’re calling The Study,” he said. “It’s more of a speakeasy lounge, people can come in here and sit in the worn leather back chairs, pull a book off the shelf if they want to, enjoy a stiff drink.”
The Study will give Rich Uncle that certain je ne sais quoi that’s going to separate it from the other pubs that clutter Kitchener-Waterloo. Since it’s up the stairs, patrons will be given a more intimate setting away from those eating in the downstairs area.
“Downstairs is where a big majority of the rebuild is happening, so essentially our bar used to be right here.” Huber motioned to a small sectioned off part directly below the stairs.
The new bar, about three times larger, was being rebuilt across from its former. Now larger in size, patrons will be able to sit down and just enjoy a drink casually. Huber continued laying out the floor plan he was envisioning.
Finishing the tour, Huber went on to explain how The Rich Uncle Tavern came into fruition. The Berlin had clearly been inspired by Kitchener’s original naming of Berlin — which had been changed in the midst of the First World War. However Rich Uncle’s titling is something slightly more quirky and could even be seen as kismet.
“[Rich Uncle] is inspired by an old cigar that was sold at The Walper,” he said.
The Walper Hotel is, of course, still in business today and remains around the block from Rich Uncle.
“There was a cigar there called The Rich Uncle, and we had this old leather bound book that regaled the history of the region of Kitchener. In almost every single page of this book there were these advertisements for this cigar. So we saw it as a sign. After we were spit-balling a few names Rich Uncle seemed to stick. It gave us a point of difference in the Region and lightened the mood.”
But more than just an interesting piece of time, the new restaurant is going to enthrall patrons with its decor.
“We’re trying to drive the look and style of the place around something that may have existed in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. So, as if The Rich Uncle actually lived in this space and over the years just accumulated things in his life and put them on the walls.”
It was still bare when I was at the restaurant two weeks ago, but I could see it slowly coming together as Huber described the vintage wallpaper and paintings they would have to complement the aesthetic.
“If you take a moment and look around, everything should be able to tell a story.”
Despite The Berlin closing its doors and Rich Uncle taking its place, previous diners of the former should still expect the same high-quality food.
“We’re purveyors of sustenance and unique spaces. We want to make spaces that check the box for delicious food and delicious drinks,” Huber said.
“We’re one of the few restaurants in Southern Ontario that have a fire stove. Which means all the meat that gets cooked on the stove gets cooked over a live fire; it gives our food a unique smokey flavour.”
Though Huber couldn’t narrow down his favourite thing on the menu, he assured me the burgers are something all meat-lovers should try. Whether or not Rich Uncle can live up to the high expectations locals hold remains to be seen. However given Ignite Restaurant Group’s track record of success, I doubt any of us will be disappointed.