Photo by Stephanie Breijo
[1/19/17 Update: Boka Tavern is now closed, as per an announcement on the restaurant's Facebook page. "Thank you all for your support in trying to make Boka Tavern work! Sadly, this has come to an end," yesterday's statement reads. "Boka will be moving forward to focus on core operations with Catering events, weddings and our new box lunch program out of our central facility Southside at the Boka Grill."]
[7/7/16 Update: Antler & Fin will close on Sunday, July 17, after its regular brunch and dinner services.]
In Richmond's ever evolving diningscape, turnover is inevitable. So here's the good news: The Boka Tako family is expanding its reach to Jackson Ward with new restaurant and bar Boka Tavern, set to open in roughly two weeks. Here's the bad news: Owner and Boka executive chef Patrick Harris is closing his new restaurant, Antler & Fin, to make it happen.
"We just see more opportunity in appealing to more people with Boka," says Harris. "We have a great restaurant [with Antler and Fin]. The thing about this is I'm not closing it because people don't like it or we got bad reviews. Everybody's raving about it — 'It's phenomenal drinks,' 'It's phenomenal food,' 'It's phenomenal service,' 'It's a beautiful space' — everything's on point."
What it comes down to, Harris says, is accessibility and affordability. Antler & Fin officially opened on May 25 at 506 W. Broad St. serving locally focused Modern American dishes conceptualized by its executive chef, Ian Merryman, who interweaved Southeast Asian influence and focused on partnerships with local farms. Just short of seven weeks later, Harris now says Boka Tavern will offer its signature Asian-fusion tacos as well as an expanded menu like that of sibling restaurant Boka Grill, but draw on Merryman's elevated cuisine for its entrées and specials — though Harris will instead serve as executive chef.
Expect late-night service running as late (or early) as 3 a.m. on weekends; Sunday brunch, which will launch immediately; lunch and dinner daily; takeout; delivery service — a first for the Boka family; potential outdoor seating; and even, Harris says, the possibility of breakfast delivery during the week.
At lunchtime the Tavern will offer specialty burgers and new menu items such as a braised lamb sandwich, a venison cheesesteak and entrée-sized salads. At dinner, dishes from and more similar to the Antler & Fin menu — such as pork chops and seasonal market fish — will be found at a more affordable price.
"We're gonna play on this beautiful space and make it so that everybody feels comfortable coming in here because there's a certain air about $28 entrées, where people come in and spend $100 for two people eating; Boka's not like that," Harris says. "We fill up Bokas on Friday and Saturday nights. That's something that we're trying to make available to more people — this type of [Antler & Fin] food, but with what everybody knows."
The Tavern will also continue Antler & Fin's farm relationships, offering Berkshire Farm pork and Border Springs Farm lamb, among others, and use the locally focused model as testing ground for the rest of the Boka empire. Much of Antler & Fin's beverage program will remain, offering seasonal cocktails, craft bourbon and possibly still serving its house-made sodas, but the Tavern will introduce Boka's signature fusion margaritas, as well as the brand's popular "Happiest Hour" happy hour where guests will find said margaritas for only $2 a pop. The ambiance will remain by and large the same: The living wall, the taxidermied deer bust, the antler chandeliers — tastefully curated by Antler & Fin general manager Kristel Poole — will all remain.
"We're not going to degrade the beauty of the space; we're just going to turn it into something that's much more cost-friendly and approachable because we want people to come in," Harris says, adding, "essentially what we're trying to do is integrate everything we've been doing and continue to evolve Boka."
Boka Tavern will be located at 506 W. Broad St. and is expected to open within the next two weeks. The newest Boka restaurant will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to midnight, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.