The square was packed with cars Tuesday night, and it wasn’t because of the Board of Commissioners meeting. The real Mystic Grill Restaurant is finally open.
Serving only dinner for now, the Mystic Grill owners are easing into the restaurant business, choosing not to publicize the restaurant’s official opening Monday night to avoid getting overrun with business, as the restaurant has been a hot topic on social media among both locals and tourists.
The restaurant – inspired by the main eatery in the popular CW Network show “The Vampire Diaries,” which has filmed frequently in Covington over its first five seasons – has already served hundreds of customers.
Contractors and employees who converted the 107-year-old bank building, which had been damaged in a May 2012 fire, into a restaurant were invited to dine along with their families Friday and Saturday. About 100 people ate each night, said General Manager Tiffany Huffman, while 189 people dined Monday night.
The restaurant is open from 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and from 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The bar, which replicates the one in the show, from the tiling to the taps, is open longer, from 4-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and from 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
As soon as the staff feels ready for more business, the restaurant will open for lunch, the owners said.
Kelley Johnston, one of the owners, said producers from the show walked through the finished restaurant last week and were “extremely happy” with the results and “looked forward to coming to film in the building.”
Despite the fact there is a set for the Mystic Grill at the show’s Decatur studio, Johnston said the real Mystic Grill has some features, such as its rooftop deck, that could be used in future shows.
Rooftop seating is not yet available, but patrons are welcome to tour the restaurant while they wait to eat or after their meal. The second floor will eventually have seating, too, but the owners and staff are taking everything one step at a time.
Currently, the second floor has a lounge for people to wait, though part-owner Angi Bezsborn said the hope is that people will walk around and enjoy the square while they wait. The restaurant uses the app BuzzTable, which texts patrons' cellphones to let them know when a table is ready.
The building is filled with history, including original arches from the building’s windows, which couldn’t survive the remodeling, and old doors and tin shingles from old buildings around the county. Some of the building’s plaster has been removed in spots to artistically show off the original brick.
Eventual plans call for Bezsborn to offer golf-cart tours, “History, Hauntings and Hollywood,” around downtown, while Johnston is working on getting “The Vampire Diaries”-themed gift shop running in the building’s basement.
Mystic Grill is not currently taking reservations. There is a private room on the second floor that patrons can reserve for events.
A Sunday brunch will also be served eventually, and Johnston said she’s excited about offering another eating option on Sundays, when many other restaurants are closed.
Parking is available on the square, but also in the parking lot behind the building.
As for the restaurant’s fare, it’s best described by Chef Boyd A. Rose: “Southern cuisine with bold and accented flavors, using local products and produce as much as possible and doing it with a twist.”
Rose was a little skeptical when he first got the offer, because, he said, he didn’t want to be involved with a gimmick, but he saw the charm of Covington and its potential for growth.
“What he cooks is good without being pretentious. It’s homey,” Johnston said.
“I want people to feel comfortable coming in and not being dressed to the ‘T’,” Rose said.
Entrees range from the $10 Mystic Burger to a 13-ounce ribeye at $25, with several dishes in between, including shrimp and grits, grilled or fried meatloaf, and corn flour-dusted catfish among the options. Salads and desserts are all $6 apiece.
The full bar is accentuated by the restaurant’s signature drink, “The Vampire Bite,” a mixture of PBR and Strongbow Cider, drizzled with black raspberry cordial.
The restaurant renovation came in under its original $2.27 million price tag, part-owner Ronnie Johnston said, despite numerous complications in bringing a 107-year-old building up to modern restaurant codes.
“It was totally surreal last night. It was an amazing feeling to watch your friends and the community enjoy themselves. It was everything we wanted it to be,” Kelley Johnston said. “At times, (the renovation) was frustrating and we wanted to pull out our hair – when we thought we'd never get through this. ... (Last night was) awesome. People are so excited.”