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Matthew Wong/Eater Atlanta

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A Year at Kimball House: From Old Train Depot to Atlanta's Favorite Oyster Bar

Kimball House opened on September 25, 2013, boasting names on the team like Michael Gallagher and Miles Macquarrie, from Brick Store Pub and Leon's Full Service, respectively. The restaurant set up shop in the historic Decatur train depot, and its name comes from the old Kimball House Hotel, which opened in the late 1800s and was razed in 1959. Macquarrie, co-owner and cocktail mastermind, recently discussed the restaurant's first year, cocktails, staff, and future plans, including a private dining room that could open next fall.

How has the past year gone?

It's been amazing. Sometimes it feels like it's been the blink of an eye, and sometimes it feels like it's been three years. It's been amazing, though. We couldn't have asked for a better year.

The physical space used to be a train depot?

Yeah, it used to be a historic train depot built in 1891. It's been other restaurants, but we came in and saw huge potential. The main room was basically a concrete slab floor and a cavernous dining room. They had a bar on the opposite side [of the restaurant] that we use for storage now but may do something with eventually. We renovated the whole kitchen, brought in new equipment, built a huge L-shaped table for pastries and garde manger. None of this was here, so we tried to pull the history out of the space. We wanted, and got, a small space with a large bar.

How was the review process?

The review process has been good. Some people love it, some people don't, but that's OK. We're starting to really hit our stride and people are coming to love what we do. The best reviews, for us, are the guests who come in here and show their friends.

"The best reviews, for us, are the guests who come in here and show their friends."

Was there an intentional focus on oysters and cocktails with a happy hour?

We always knew we were going to open at 5. With some of the stuff we were doing at the bar and in the kitchen, it would be hard to execute a lunch service, so we wanted a way to get people in right away. Not only is it good to have people in when you open, but it creates a great pace to get moving. It's difficult to create a happy hour crowd for a new restaurant or bar, so we decided to offer oysters at a discounted rate during that time. We essentially don't make a dime on those oysters, but we bring people in to show them what we do and pour them drinks.

Where do you get the inspiration for your cocktails?

It comes from all over the place. With the classic space, we wanted to focus on the classic structure with some classic drinks. We serve them in mix-matched vintage glassware, and try to play with the formulas to bring something fresh and new. I work very closely with the chefs inside the kitchen. We share the same equipment and ingredients from local farmers, so there's a cool correlation between the food and the drinks that works for us.

With the multiple chefs and owners, how does everything run?

We've been really fortunate to have passionate chefs and cooks as well as managers here, so we're able to bring that passion to the floor as well. Most of our staff has been with us since we opened, so we have a bunch of veterans that know what we do here.

Kimball House

How often do you rotate the food and cocktail menus?

It happens all the time. We print menus every day, so sometimes it's a protein change in the kitchen or a component change in our drinks. Cocktails tend to switch throughout the seasons, but small pieces are constantly coming on and off the menu. We can change anything when we want to, and we come together as a team to focus on that.

You mentioned a possible conversion with the bar in the back room.

In the future, I think we're going to set up the back room for special events as a private dining room and place a special prep area back there so we can have prep cooks in a designated space preparing for dinners.

That would be nice, this is a beautiful space.

Thank you. That was the big thing for us. How the room is presented, how the drinks are presented, how is the food presented is huge for us. We say you eat and drink with your eyes first, and then your nose and then your mouth. So if you walk into a beautiful room and there should be a lively vibe and the drinks, food, lighting, music, everything should look right. It's very important to us.

"We say you eat and drink with your eyes first, and then your nose and then your mouth."

How do you foresee the future here?

The team that we have here is amazing. I'm looking forward to letting the people behind the bar have some drinks on the menu and having a collaborative effort to the menu. Knowing I can not be here and rely on the staff to execute the drinks the same way. Moving forward, we're just going to keep doing what we do. I don't think we'll ever have a lunch service here, which I'm fine with. The size of the room was important to us because it doesn't have to be too busy in here to feel bustling.

[Photos: Matthew Wong/Eater Atlanta]

Kimball House

303 East Howard Avenue, , GA 30030 (404) 378-3502 Visit Website
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