A small touch of Nashville in Newton Upper Falls
By Francis Ma/Staff Writer
Tue Sep 09, 2008, 01:00 PM EDT
Straying from its prior incarnation as a gastropub, the Biltmore Bar & Grille in Newton now serves up a bit of Southern charm on its menu with Cajun catfish and the popular hog wings, an appetizer of grilled marinated pork shanks.
The Southern atmosphere is a source of pride for owner and chef Jason Owens, originally from Tennessee, and just this past August, he added live music to the restaurant, bringing a bit more of his upbringing to 1205 Chestnut St. in the Garden City.
“I love music,” said Owens, who took over the Biltmore in February. “I’ve always envisioned live music being part of the atmosphere. The acts play in the front window, which is very reminiscent of Nashville.”
Owens said the atmosphere isn’t quite as rowdy as Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, despite acts like Dave Foley’s “Johnny Cash Tribute” (plays Sept. 12) and the “Live Elvis Cover Band” (plays Sept. 26) taking the stage.
This is, after all, the suburbs.
“We were thinking you don’t have to go into Boston to have this experience,” Owens said.
But Owens had other reasons for opening the Biltmore in Newton, aside from giving people a break from braving the traffic and parking hassles of the city on a Friday night.
“To be honest, it’s the opportunity to have my own vision,” Owens said. “I used to work at Sanctuary in Boston, and that was a different animal.”
Don’t worry. Owens’ vision isn’t to someday have a club thumping a heavy bass line into the street. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
There’s more of a retro feel to the atmosphere of the Biltmore, both in the aesthetics and the sound, which is exactly what Owens wants: making the place more of a neighborhood bar and restaurant than Cambridge’s Middle East Club, a venue that caters to up-and-coming indie-rock bands.
“We don’t do a lot of modern stuff here,” Owens said. “Some of our more progressive artists will mix in newer stuff. Like when Elvis would cover songs from that time, our Elvis act will do some popular songs.”
One artist who seems to straddle the fine line between retro and modern is Chad LaMarsh, who has already proven to be one of the more popular acts during the Biltmore’s first month of its live music experiment.
Some may remember LaMarsh performing in Boston in the mid 1990s when he entertained crowds two to three times a week with Bon Jovi covers and the occasional original song, which garnered him a dedicated fanbase, one that’s still strong today.
“He’s definitely a good person to help us build the live music element,” Owens said. “He attracts people who used to watch him in the city who have now moved to the ’burbs.”
LaMarsh, who played his first show at the Biltmore over Labor Day weekend, agreed.
“I’ve already run into a bunch of people who have seen me for years,” LaMarsh said. “When I got there, the second group of people that walked in … there was this guy who used to travel to see me in the city, and this is his neck of the woods.”
LaMarsh said he’s working on a new album and that he still plays covers for his audience, but the songs have changed since his earlier days.
“I play Maroon 5, Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls,” LaMarsh said. “But country is the new Bon Jovi for me, so I’ve been playing Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. I didn’t even know about Chesney till a couple of weeks ago. People tell me he’s the new [Jimmy] Buffett.”
And, when he dipped into a little Chesney during his Biltmore show, LaMarsh said the audience erupted, some pushing tables to dance on the floor while others sang in their chairs.
It’s the kind of atmosphere LaMarsh relishes, and one he said he doesn’t experience too often in clubs. He enjoyed the Biltmore show so much that he booked himself a gig a month for the rest of the year because he’s “got a good feeling about this place” (his next show is on Sept. 27).
“I hope they keep this gong,” LaMarsh said. “It’s such a warm and comfortable place. You don’t get that feeling a lot. When you walk into a place for the first time and the staff treats you well, and make you feel invited in, you know that’s how they treat customers. That Southern hospitality that Jason talked about is pretty accurate. And those hog wings are unbelievable. When I get back, it might be the only thing I eat.”