On a recent Wednesday, Tim Lyons, an award-winning chef, sits in Cup-A-Joe wearing a blue zippered hoodie, sipping a cup of coffee. He’s the owner of that bar that suddenly appeared on King Street one day a month ago, with signs tacked to the windows that read “Why live when you can rule?”
You may know his name from the delicate seafood cuisine at Blu’s Seafood and Bar or the farm-to-fire-to-fork Primal Food and Spirits, both located in Durham.
But this King Street Bar isn’t out to knock fine dining elbows in Hillsborough, nor compete with other local nightlife establishments. This bar and its owners and operators are looking to have a lot of fun.
Lyons practically throws out the perception of a fine dining atmosphere and instead, offers that this newest venture is simply “a bar with snacks.”
Yes, the bar will feature cocktails that are fit for a date night out, but no one should feel out of place if they walk in wearing a T-shirt and jeans, he said. There will be a large tap selection of craft beers, but if one only has a couple bucks in their pocket, they’ll have Pabst Blue Ribbon available too. Lyons is old friends with both Antonia’s owner Claudia Salvadore and also with Matt Fox and Dean James, the guys behind the Wooden Nickel and LaPlace Louisiana Cookery– all soon to be neighbors.
Lyons is excited to share his third business venture with the community of Hillsborough, an endeavor that comes almost 12 years after his relocation to Durham from Key West, Florida, in the wake of the destruction left by Hurricane Wilma.
He opened Blu Seafood and Bar just over 10 years ago in June 2007, only a year after moving to Durham. Prior to that, he was situated in Key West as chef de cuisine at the world renowned restaurant, Louie’s Backyard, for seven years.
Lyons grew up in Southern California, where he worked as a sous chef under James Beard Award winning chef Ulf Strandberg of Gustaf Anders’ restaurant, a Swedish continental cuisine restaurant on South Coast Plaza.
He traces the beginning of his culinary journey to small town New Haven, Vermont, under the training of his brother-in-law Roland Guajac, a French chef from Lyon, France. In Vermont, he worked as a sous chef at Roland’s Place and Storm Café, gaining the foundation he needed to begin his culinary career.
Lyons loves food and the intricate art of cuisine, but was disenchanted by the “pretentiousness” that those restaurants often bring.
But Hillsborough is different to him – he fell in love with this town because it reminds him of small town Vermont.
With friends nestled in establishments adjacent and right around each corner, Lyons is in good company. He’ll also bring in some of his most trusted friends and employees: Chris Riddle, director of operations for Blu Seafood, and Jess Donnell, who currently manages at Primal Food and Spirits, but will pivot to Hillsborough, serving as the bar manager.
With this bar, he says he doesn’t want “to get too complicated” and, with a shoulder shrug and a laugh, that he’s looking to let his hair down.
A circular rustic metal piece with letters “KSB” and a crown now hangs outside the new spot at 114 W King St. Bright chestnut wood against black trim pops the historic features that were once painted white. Each window displays the bar’s tagline: “Why live when you can rule?”
The exterior epitomizes both the liveliness Lyons hopes to bring to the space, but also the architectural intent for the bar interior.
“We want to bring back some of the natural elements of the building while incorporating some modern design,” Lyons said.
The building’s design has been in collaboration with Emeline Guajac, Chef Roland Guajac’s youngest daughter and Lyon’s niece. This spring, she will graduate from Northeastern University in Boston with a masters in design.
The King Street bar interior might feature industrial design paired against the likes of a chandelier and original mill work design detail. But really, much of the bar is still a secret.
Lyons remains tight-lipped, sticking with phrases like “special features” for bar entertainment ideas and not giving much information on food or drink. He also doesn’t have a firm opening date but calmly says they’ll open “in a few weeks.” He wants to keep the element of surprise, but he is sure that upon opening, people will enjoy what The King Street Bar has to offer.