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Board Approves Meriden Tavern

Meriden — Three hours after first unveiling his proposal to the Plainfield Zoning Board Monday night, aspiring tavern keeper Thom Lappin finally got his answer: Yes.

Lappin, a Meriden contractor, is planning to renovate the ground floor of a 19th-century house into a 48-seat restaurant, to be named Poor Thom’s Tavern.

Meriden residents embraced the plan Monday night, saying a local rendezvous spot for convivality and good cheers is just what the village needs.

The house-cum-tavern, located at the intersection of Route 120 and Bean Street in Meriden, will serve moderately priced “upscale pub” and “comfort food” dinners — along with beer and wine — seven days a week, Lappin said. The décor, he noted, will stay true to the building’s 19th-century period roots and Lappin will convert four of the house’s original rooms into dining areas. The newly-built kitchen will feature a brick oven.

Lappin, who has a degree in restaurant and hotel management and has worked as a manager in the restaurant industry across Europe and the Northeastern United States, said he has dreamed of opening his own restaurant for years. Last night, the board put him one step closer to reality when it unanimously approved both a parking variance and a special permit for operating a restaurant and apartments in the same building.

Lappin bought the property last year and has been eager to move forward with the restaurant.

“I’m so happy for the outcome tonight,” he said following the meeting. “I’m trying to bring the village something that the people want, and you could see that tonight. I cannot walk down the street without people saying ‘Hey, when is that tavern opening up?’ ”

Lappin, a member of the Meriden Volunteer Fire Department, is no stranger among village residents.

“He’s a known commodity here in the village,” said Plainfield Town Administrator Steve Halleran. “A character, in the best possible way.”

So it wasn’t surprising that more than 20 community members crowded into town hall Monday night to support Lappin’s plans.

“This new tavern would really fill a need in the community here,” said resident Rob Taylor, when the floor opened for public comment. “What we need here in Meriden is a place to get together and interact as a community, and I really think this fills this need.”

Deb Beaupre added, “This is a beautiful community, but without a gathering place. I think it would be nothing but an asset to a wonderful place.”

Those sentiments were echoed as community members spoke in turn.

The property lies just down the hill from the Kimball Union Academy. Kimball Union CFO Jim Gray, speaking on campus Monday, said he looks forward to a sit-down restaurant in the village, but expressed some reservation over an establishment serving alcohol in such close proximity to the private high school.

“We have a large number of underage students and safety is of paramount concern,” he said. “It will require tightening and refining existing policies.”

But overall, the Meriden community appears enthusiastic about the proposed tavern. Resident David Weidman said that he was looking forward to a local dining option, as he currently has to drive seven miles for a sit-down meal. “It will be so nice to just go somewhere local to hang out,” he said.

After Lappin’s proposal and the public comments, the board debated the issue of parking and the regulation that “impervious surfaces” can’t cover more than 20 percent of the property. But Lappin’s proposal showed that 28 percent of the property would be covered by an impervious material — mostly blacktop.

Ultimately, Lappin was granted a parking variance.

Lappin next will meet with the village’s planning committee to discuss issues such as deliveries, waste disposal and signage for the restaurant. The discussions will occur next month, after which construction will begin in time for a spring opening, Lappin said.

Before the hearing, Halleran said he was worried.

“I have been to these meetings over the years where they (public) ran us right out of the room,” he said.

But as last night’s meeting wrapped up, he addressed Lappin: “You very clearly had what could have been a very controversial hearing in Meriden village tonight, but instead you had the support of the community. People want this, people are giving you a real chance. Now you now have the responsibility to live up to that.”