It’s been a little over a month since Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits opened at Krog Street Market next door to Ticonderoga Club. The highly-anticipated second restaurant from the team behind Decatur’s Kimball House seems to have exceeded expectations, judging by the positive early press and stacked weekend reservations.
It’s a tall order, given Watchman’s location as a higher-end restaurant in the BeltLine-adjacent food hall populated with fast-casual stalls.
The vibe at Watchman’s is more dressed-down than Kimball House. The restaurant’s relaxed yet polished design is by local architecture firm Square Feet Studio. It’s the firm’s third project with Watchman’s owners Bryan Rackley, Miles Macquarrie, Jesse Smith, and Matt Christison. Square Feet Studio was responsible for maintaining the historic integrity of the old train depot, now home to Kimball House and its weekend cocktail lounge and private dining room, Bonanza.
The busy food hall beyond Watchman’s is cleverly hidden from view with curtains. Bursts of verdant green deftly weave through the main dining room into the cocktail and oyster bar areas. Natural light flows throughout the space from the large patio windows and skylight above the bar. The light and high ceilings inspired Square Feet Studio to hang dozens of plants from the old steel structure above and along shelves on the walls.
“Jute macramé, handmade by one of the owner’s moms, adds texture and a very personal touch,” architect Vivian Bencich says of Watchman’s living design elements.
The restaurant’s breezy mood floats seamlessly through its menu, led by executive chef Daniel Chance. Chance was most recently at Anne Quatrano’s Ponce City Market seafood restaurant W.H. Stiles Fish Camp.
“Coming up with a menu that creates an identity was important. It also needed to be light, but thorough,” Chance says. “You can order small plates and oysters and still make a meal of things. I use a lot of Italian and French techniques, but I still keep it fun.”
Chance, who loves to incorporate vermouth into his seafood dishes, puts the aromatized wine in Watchman’s clams with sofrito (Latin American sauce with tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs). “It really stands up to the clams, and it plays well off Miles’ bar program.”
Macquarrie endeavored to make the cocktail menu at Watchman’s more concise than its Kimball House counterpart. The rum and tonic is a happy hour standout, which dances along a tight selection of coastal-inspired drinks. This includes a perfectly-balanced mojito.
“It is a daiquiri bar, and also a place to have a martini with your oysters. There is a focus on rum,” Macquarrie explains of the cocktails.
But, don’t call it a tiki bar.
“I do love tiki, and we’ve definitely got coastal vibes on the menu, but it isn’t a full-on theme,” Smith adds.
At the heart of Watchman’s is Rackley’s oyster program, with its regional focus on sustainably-farmed bivalves from Southeastern and Gulf Coast farms.
“When we opened Kimball and had this ambitious [oyster] program, it was a concern of mine people wouldn’t ‘get’ it, wouldn’t understand why we were offering so much stuff,” says Rackley, a co-founder of the nonprofit Oyster South. “But people in Atlanta have been super supportive.”
Like Kimball House, diners seem to have embraced Watchman’s oyster menu and what Rackley and Oyster South are trying to accomplish by shining a light on the region’s aquaculture.
All four partners have a vested interest in sustainability and aquaculture; it’s become the cornerstone of Watchman’s foundation, and a pertinent conviction given the menu’s Southeastern coastal command. Appropriately, the restaurant’s name was inspired by the tradition of farmers and fishermen watching over their oysters from seed to harvest.
“They [farmers] have to move a lot of product to be successful, and if we can help them do that in any way, build a foundation, keep what they’re doing going, expand to other restaurants…we’re stoked we get to help out with that,” Rackley explains.
Smith gives a great deal of credit to the seasoned team at Kimball House for things going more smoothly than expected over the last month. It’s allowed them to focus all of their attention on Watchman’s and acclimate to the fast-paced flow of service created by the crowds at Krog Street Market.
The partners also provided several Kimball House staff members with new opportunities at Watchman’s; like longtime bartender Adrian Fessenden-Kroll, who now oversees the bar at the new restaurant.
“It’s a dance,” Smith admits. “It’s a choreography. We are building a chemistry that takes time and practice. I feel like this first month has been rehearsals.”
“Now that we’re a month in,” notes Chance, “we’re getting more comfortable with what we’re doing. We can play. Push.”
Open Tuesday – Thursday, 5 p.m to 11 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.