Subterranean nightclub planned in downtown Hanover


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-05-2021 4:50 PM

HANOVER — Hanover has never been a town known as a destination for nightlife, but an ambitious project now underway in the basement of the former Dartmouth Bookstore on South Main Street may change that.

Hanover developer Jay Campion is building a nearly 7,000-square-foot restaurant and nightclub that will include a venue for music and other artist performances in the basement of the shuttered bookstore.

To be entered from Allen Street, the new establishment, named Sawtooth Kitchen, is targeted to open early next year, according to Campion and his son, Kieran Campion, who is general manager of the enterprise.

“A restaurant with an event space for live performance of music is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Campion, whose family has been prominent in Hanover’s businesses and real estate community for generations.

“With the demographic of the college students in town and people in the Upper Valley who appreciate music and art and the bookstore closing, there was finally enough space to do it,” he said,

Hidden from public view, the cavernous basement level, which extends from the front of the early 1900s circa building back to the former Everything but Anchovies restaurant on Allen Street, formerly was utilized as storage and retail space for the bookstore.

The restaurant, kitchen and performance space is the latest step in the transformation of the Wimblewood Building, which the Campion family has owned since the 1950s and at one time was the home of the Hanover Co-op and also Campion’s Sporting Goods, both long gone from South Main Street.

Since the bookstore closed in 2018, Campion has renovated the ground retail spaces which now house My Brigadeiro cafe, bakery and chocolate shop and Still North book store and cafe. The upper floors are occupied by administrative offices for Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

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A key element in Sawtooth Kitchen — the name comes the building’s serrated-shape foundation walls in what will be the kitchen area — is the restaurant and food operation in which fresh and frozen prepared meals will also be available for pick-up and delivery at a separate designated entrance in the alley.

Campion also foresees the commercial kitchen producing Sawtooth Kitchen prepared frozen meals that would be distributed wholesale and sold locally at places like the Hanover Co-op and other markets.

“Take-out is here to stay,” Campion said about how restaurants originally out of necessity pivoted for survival during the pandemic but then discovered a growing market for pick-up and home-delivered meals. “If you can do it in a unique way and with quality, it’s going to set a new trend.”

But perhaps most ambitious — and potentially risky — will be Sawtooth Kitchen’s low-rise stage and 163-seat table seating area that Campion variously described as a “nightclub,” “cabaret” and “performance space” that is designed to present musicians, stand-up comics, theater artists and writers before the public.

A performance space for live music has been absent from Hanover since both Salt hill Pub and Skinny Pancake, which both booked regional musicians, closed early in the pandemic.

Kieran Campion, 44, a 1995 graduate of Hanover High School, Colgate University and the British American Drama Academy who has moved back to the Upper Valley with this young family, after a career as a stage and TV actor and Chicago-based theatrical agent, said he expects to tap contacts in the entertainment industry to program the venue.

The younger Campion envisions the live venue at Sawtooth Kitchen will be more than a spot to hear coffee-house balladeers but will offer a wide spectrum of performance artists.

“We’re going to run the gamut in terms of performing arts,” said Campion, who most recently worked as a theatrical agent in Chicago. “My aspirational plan is to build a home for artists in the Upper Valley, developing our own in-house work, like an ensemble company, whether sketch comedy or storytelling, developing creative talent.”

“During 20 years in New York and Chicago I’ve made a lot of connections in the business and can call upon them to bring people up from the city, or double up with artists at Dartmouth, or a visiting artist doing a master class, performing a play, reading of new work, a cabaret act on Saturday night,” he said.

As for the music, Kieran said the region offers a rich selection of performers to book.

“This isn’t going to be a place for another Irish jug band,” he said.

The Town of Hanover once took a dim view of restaurants also hosting live performances, most notably when the former Canoe Club was blocked by the zoning administrator in the early 2000s from offering live musical entertainment because it was not a permitted accessory use.

But the Zoning Board later reversed the decision, saying the administrator’s interpretation of what is permitted under an accessory use was too narrow — “live musical performances are a permitted accessory use for a property whose primary use is a restaurant, at least when implemented at substantially the level and scope proposed by the applicant in this case,” the 2003 decision read.

Hanover Planning and Zoning Director Robert Houseman said his department has been in contact with the Campions during the permitting process in order to make sure it comports with zoning ordinances.

“We have spent many hours with Jay to make sure we understand the scope of this project and we believe the principal use of the restaurant and the proposed music venue is subordinate and accessory to the principal use and therefore permissible,” Houseman said last week.

The Campions said they are in talks with potential chefs to run the kitchen, although they said it was too early yet to talk about the menu.

Jay Campion said the kitchen, however, could end up supplying the food for Still North Books, which he also predicts will utilize the venue space for author signings and book events.

“Honestly, I think this is going to be a very cool place,” Jay Campion said.

Contact John Lippman at