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Chef-partner Andrew Bower (left) and partners Mark Priemer and Sam McNulty
“Bright Side is literally a bar-forward concept,” says Sam McNulty. “Bringing the energy to the front of the space was the primary design focus. From there it was about doing a 180-degree turn from this dimly lit, moody space to the Bright Side.”
It’s been 17 and 15 years, respectively, since McNulty and co-founder Mark Priemer opened Bier Markt and Bar Cento in Ohio City. This past October, the partners announced that they were closing both venues to make way for something new.
On June 8, they will formally introduce Bright Side
to the neighborhood. The main design objective, according to the partners, was to flip pretty much everything about the former space on its head.
“There were times you would walk by – and we had two great bars, Bier Markt and Bar Cento – but until you committed and walked in, you would never even know they were back there,” explains Priemer.
Those bars and restaurants used to exist in the rear of the space, behind a large, quiet seating area that offered few clues about what was going on in back. But now, a glass façade opens up to reveal a 44-seat island bar that begins just steps from the sidewalk.
In stark contrast to the dimly lit wine bar and Belgian beer hall, Bright Side is bedazzled with gold penny tile, flaming pastels, sparkling tabletop lights and rose gold mirror balls. Those elements join 110-year-old historical elements such as the tin ceiling, art deco railings and refurbished wood floors.
In addition to the large central bar with pearlescent bartop, there are high-top tables, communal tables and large booths. A small dining room in the rear of the space features wood-slat walls that offer a modicum of privacy while still connecting diners with the action in the main hall. All told, there is room for 220 guests.
The original Bar Cento kitchen remains largely as is, though with new equipment and layout. There is an expanded chef’s counter offering some of the best seats in the house. In that kitchen will be the powerhouse tag team of chef-partners Andrew Bower and Steve Schimoler, who marks his return to Ohio City. Together, the chefs have crafted an entirely new menu of creative comfort food made with healthy, local ingredients.
Well, almost entirely new.
“The Sunnyside pizza and frites are coming back,” McNulty concedes. “We weren’t going to, but I can’t tell you how many people have been begging for them.”
The Sunnyside – along with four other pies – will now be naturally leavened. They join “table snacks” like clams with fermented black bean sauce and grilled sourdough, Old Bay-poached shrimp cocktail, plantain chips and dips, and those unforgettable duck fat-fried potatoes with rosemary and garlic.
The menu features several items geared to vegans, vegetarians and diners who just crave something fresh, wholesome and delicious. There are creative salads, including a soft wedge with roasted tomatoes and green goddess dressing, alongside a relish board loaded with fresh vegetables, fermented vegetables, pickled vegetables and vegan ranch dip.
Two house-made pastas, cacio e pepe gnocchi and a seasonal bucatini, join entrees like veggie lasagna, whole roasted cauliflower with ras el hanout, a smoked half chicken, grilled grass-fed Ohio steak and a whole grilled fish with ginger-shallot sauce.
To drink there are 16 craft beers (12 from Market Garden, four rotating locals), cocktails and a Champagne-heavy wine list with other global gems.
Despite changing dining trends that favor fast-casual, Bright Side is doubling down on the full-service, sit-down model of business that has served them well for all these years.
“We’re looking forward, not back,” says McNulty. “After two years of social distancing, the Bright Side will be the opposite of that; we want to bring people together. People are tired of ordering food on their phones or staying at home watching Netflix.”
It’s been nearly two decades since McNulty and Priemer took a chance on an up-and-coming neighborhood that many people would rather avoid than visit. By investing in places like Bier Markt, Bar Cento, Market Garden and Nano, they helped usher in a wave of neighborhood transformation.
“We were part of a sea change 19 years ago and I can sense there’s another paradigm shift happening with all these new restaurants,” McNulty says. “People want to see new and fresh concepts – and quite frankly, we are excited to do something fresh and to write a new story going forward.”