July 5, 2016 02:11AM
By Brooke Constance White
Sun staff writer
MYSTIC — Merrily and Michael Connery make an unstoppable team. The power couple has a knack for looking at an old, vacant building, seeing beyond the rust and rubble and converting it into something stunning.
First, they took a World War II-era airplane hangar on Elm Street and turned it into a tasting room at their winery, Saltwater Farm Vineyard, and now the power couple has reimagined a 1950s gas station just outside of downtown Mystic and has transformed it into a sophisticated café and bar.
If the new establishment, M/Bar, is anything like their vineyard, it’ll soon be busting at the seams with guests.
Until the duo purchased the Broadway Avenue property last summer, the station had been used for storage by the former owners.
After seeing the old station and its location on the main thoroughfare in Mystic, the Connerys, who have a house in Stonington Borough, decided they wanted to explore a restoration of the building and property.
“There’s a whole subgenre of architecture that focuses on old car dealerships and gas stations, and so we decided to take that same vision that we had for the hangar and use it here,” Michael Connery said. “It’s the idea of adaptive reuse.”
Bryan Wills of TBW Restoration has overseen the renovation project, and a lot of the credit goes to him in his work since the project started in October, Connery said.
The café officially opened this week with a tasteful menu of small plates, coffee drinks, craft beers and wines.
Although M/Bar is only open at 4 p.m., in the near future, they hope to offer breakfast and lunch as well as to-go options.
“It won’t be a static menu,” Merrily Connery said. “The concept will be the same but the items will change.”
The pair thinks the concept is fairly different than anything that’s currently offered in the Mystic/Stonington area. Some of the inspiration for the tastefully decorated bar come from the Connerys’ experience at coffee/wine bars in New York City, where Merrily works as a real-estate broker, and California.
Upon entering the restored gas station, guests are welcomed into the industrial-style space with high ceilings, tables and chairs as well as bar seating.
Several of the tables and wine-bottle displays were made by artisans and craftsmen and are both decorative and practical.
One side of the space is lined with three large bay doors that will be open when the weather allows, connecting the indoor area with the patio-seating area and fire pits, offering a hybrid open-air indoor/outdoor experience.
Although the gas pumps were removed years ago, the Connerys plan to have a porte cochère connecting the canopy over the old pump stations to the main station building in the future.
“It’s a sophisticated space with an industrial touch,” Merrily Connery said.
The name M/Bar can mean whatever their guests want it to mean, the couple said.
“We wanted something simple yet distinctive, a bit of ‘mystery,’ ” she said. “Community response has been very positive, enthusiastic and excited about the reimagining of the gas station.”