A Bar Is Born: Couple Refreshes a Bethel Landmark

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    Owen Daniel-McCarter, left, and Jesse Plotsky, right, plan to open Babes Bar in the former train depot in Bethel on Friday. The Chicago transplants have been remodeling the space, previously occupied by the Depot bar and a barber shop before that, in the hope that it will be a welcoming community place. "We want to honor how beautiful and historic this building is and bring it back to life," said Daniel-McCarter. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Jesse Plotsky moves a couch upstairs at Babes Bar in Bethel, Vt., Monday, June 11, 2018. The second floor of the bar will become a quiet study space. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Owen Daniel-McCarter, left, and Jesse Plotsky named their Babes Bar after Paul Bunyon's Blue Ox as a tribute to their midwestern roots. Bethel, Vt., Monday June 11, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/12/2018 10:00:05 PM
Modified: 6/12/2018 10:00:11 PM

“What is a Chicago dog? Well, I’m glad you asked,” said Owen Daniel-McCarter, who, along with his husband, Jesse Plotsky, is the owner and proprietor of Babes Bar, a new bar specializing in drinks and finger food in Bethel’s former train depot.

A Chicago dog, for all you East Coast preppies, is a hot dog, dressed up Chicago style. Here are the particulars: all-beef frankfurter on a poppy-seed bun with mustard (never ketchup, unless you simply must have it), chopped white onions, celery salt and a neon-green sweet pickle relish. Tomato slices, dill pickle spear and peppers are optional.

It’s “salad on a bun,” Plotsky said.

And, yes, a bona fide Chicago dog will be on the menu at Babes Bar, its name a nod to that Midwestern icon Paul Bunyan and his blue ox. Babes, which opens for business Friday, will be the only stand-alone bar in town. While other restaurants also serve drinks, the emphasis here is on, first, a generous array of cocktails, beer and wine, and, second, a small menu of finger foods, because there is no kitchen.

Daniel-McCarter and Plotsky, both in their 30s, are recent transplants from Chicago, where they lived for 11 years before deciding to make Vermont their next stop. They married shortly before leaving the Midwest.

“We were ready to move out of Chicago. The universe presented us with this opportunity at the right time,” said Plotsky.

The road to Vermont was paved by a family connection: Plotsky’s brother Andrew Plotsky and his wife, Rita Champion, own Stitchdown Farm in Bethel, which specializes in flowers for the floral industry and also offers a flower CSA.

Plotsky grew up in Washington, D.C. In Chicago, he played the drums for three rock bands, and also worked in the wine department at Trader Joe’s. Daniel-McCarter was born and raised in Milwaukee, went to the University of Vermont for his undergraduate degree and earned a law degree from the City University of New York School of Law; he was also executive director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which promotes the safety, well-being and mental and physical health of LGBTQ students.

The two men had been looking at property in Bethel when the former depot went up for sale.

The last passenger train to stop in Bethel, around 1966, was the Ambassador, a pre-Amtrak south and northbound route which went from Montreal to White River Junction, where it split into a Boston or New York-bound train, said Jim Murphy, the vice-president of the Central Vermont Railroad Historical Society, who lives in St. Albans. The building itself last served as a depot in 1974, said Greg Fedak, president of the Bethel Historical Society. and Boston. There was also a barbershop in the building, although the dates on that are unclear, said Fedak. The depot became a bar in the early 1980s, but it closed last November. Freight trains and Amtrak’s Vermonter still rumble past.

The building dates from the 1880s, Murphy said, and many of the original features, such as wainscoting and hardwood floors, are still intact. Plotsky and Daniel-McCarter have tried to preserve and open up as much of the depot as possible. They repainted the interior to brighten it and pulled up the linoleum, revealing the original floor boards.

There’s a fine view of both the train tracks and the trees on the other side of the White River through the row of back windows (Plotsky noted that trains come through on average four times a day) and in warmer weather, they will have a patio/porch outside, which overlooks the tracks and the original signaling equipment.

You might allow for some culture shock coming from Chicago (pop. 9.5 million) to Bethel (pop. around 2,000). Overall, however, the two men have liked the change and have been working non-stop since they arrived in March to get the bar ready.

“Adjusting to a rural place has been good. We’ve had nothing but people welcoming us,” said Daniel-McCarter. And compared to the bureaucracy of opening a business in a major metropolis, Plotsky said, the red tape in Vermont has seemed relatively easy to negotiate.

“It seems like people want you to be in business,” Plotsky said. That effort is part of the revitalization of Main Street Bethel, which boasts a wine shop, restaurants and small stores. The drive to make the downtown more attractive to tourists and residents was part of the reason both men were drawn to the town.

They have had a few questions about whether Babes is intended to be a gay bar, but the answer is no. “Everyone is welcome,” said Daniel-McCarter.

That includes children. “People our age, from their 20s through their 40s, need a place to bring their kids,” Plotsky added. (They have no children of their own.)

Although Babes will offer a small menu of food, including Chicago dogs and chips, customers are welcome to bring in take-out from other restaurants in town, such as Cockadoodle Pizza next door. They don’t want to compete with other businesses, Daniel-McCarter said.

The cocktail menu is filled with classics: Negronis, martinis, boilermakers and Manhattans. They are also introducing a Midwestern classic, Bloody Marys with a Wisconsin twist, which means that the drink comes with a pony glass of beer. And the beer menu, apart from Vermont craft beer, will also feature the Midwestern stalwarts Miller and Budweiser. Good quality, reasonably priced wine will round out the drinks menu. And they will offer flights of beer and whiskey for those who want to try a little bit of everything.

Don’t go looking for a drinks menu that is pages long, however. “We’re trying not to overwhelm,” said Daniel-McCarter.

Unlike other businesses in town, Babes will be open on Sundays to accommodate sports fans, football fans in particular. Plotsky and Daniel-McCarter are planning to turn the upstairs into a reading room stocked with books supplied by themselves and, they hope, town residents. They will also, at some point, begin featuring live music downstairs, including appearances by Plotsky himself.

“We want it to be a gathering space for the community where they can do their thing, read, drink and be social,” said Plotsky.

For more information go to babesvt.com or call 802-234-1144. Also on Facebook and Instagram @babesvt.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.

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