The Charlestown Rathskeller Tavern bears only a large, stylized letter “R” by way of identification. Of course, that stands for “Rathskeller” —but it could also stand for relaxed (as in the atmosphere), reasonable (as in the prices) and delightfully retro (as in the décor). Oh, and return, which you will no doubt do once you’ve dined, imbibed, and been merry there!
The reason for the lone “R” is actually to reflect the Rathskeller property’s past as the site of a 1920s-era speakeasy. Back in those desert-dry days, the shadily intrepid entrepreneurs who wished to purvey spirits had to be sneaky about it, which necessitated subtlety in advertising.
New owners Mark and Tom Ready and Nate Holloway were wise, when refurbishing the building last year, to preserve many of its special bygone-era features, including a large stone fireplace in the tavern and the murals, which were painstakingly restored. The murals in the bar feature 1920s boxing champs Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, while those in the dining room are fun and quirky depictions of such Prohibition imagery as a jazz band, languid ladies with pencil-thin brows and, above the “kissing booth,” a comically inebriated chap encountering an equally pickled pink elephant. Story goes that the murals were painted by a regular back in the 40s to pay off a bar tab.
“Back in the 20s, the speakeasy was in a spring house on the property. Then in 1933 the original own-ers build the small bar and restaurant so they could serve alcohol legally,” explains the tavern’s manager Ryan Pincince. “The old Rathskeller operated here from 1933 until 2002 and then went out of business. Mark and Tom Ready and Nate Holloway purchased it in 2011 and recreated it from concept to execution.”
It was a natural decision for the trio; Tom and Mark own Ready Excavating and Nate owns ABRI Construction, all located in Charlestown. Mark and Nate actually grew up within quarter mile of the original Rathskeller. Nate’s wife is related to the original owners of the property, the Lezner family. The new owners rebuilt the place mostly from scratch, maintaining the original windows as well as the fireplace and murals while carefully replicating the design and décor of the original establishment, right down to the booths.
The new Rathskeller opened in September 2013, and has been a resounding success. The popular tavern claims to have the coldest beer in Rhode Island; The 18 beers on tap, which feature everyone’s favorite domestics as well as craft beers from New England, are kept to a frosty 28 degrees Fahrenheit and served in chilled mugs. There are also copious cocktails to be enjoyed, including the classic Moscow Mule vodka, ginger beer, and muddled lime presented in —what else?— a shiny copper mug.
“Our full-service bar features handcrafted bourbons, higher-end scotches, and local spirits such as Sons of Liberty Royal 9 vodka, which is made in Peacedale,” Ryan points out. “We also have a full-service outdoor bar and patio area as well as a ‘fireside shed’ bar, which was built where saunas used to be.”
The menu, characterized as Traditional American, features plenty of seafood, pasta, and steaks. When the owners were designing the menu with Head Chef Wayne “Butch” Bush, they agreed to base many of the menu items on old menus from the Rathskeller’s earliest decades. For example, one of the most popular items is the tavern’s hand-pressed fries. They are pre-pared to order just as they were back in the day, and served with such mouth-watering toppings as short-rib gravy; truffled pecorino; and bacon, cheddar, sour cream and chives.
Butch and his team prepare everything from scratch. The lunch menu, served until 5:00 p.m. daily, features burgers and a wide array of sandwiches including the classic Reuben; a crab cake with tabasco aioli and sprouts; a hot roast beef with horseradish sauce and cheddar; a tofu burger with cheddar, avocado, and aioli; and a Monte Cristo ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese between two slices of French toast. Soups and stews on the menu include oyster stew, classic French onion, and clam chowder with or without cream. Of course, there are also those famous Rathskeller fries, which are meal all by themselves!
The Rathskeller’s standard dinner menu includes center-cut filet mignon with classic Béarnaise sauce, USDA Choice bone-in ribeye with melted butter or roasted tomato vinaigrette, oldfashioned NY club sirloin sliced over toast points with garlic butter, flat iron steak with blue cheese fondue or Chimichurri sauce, and prime rib (Saturday only). There are also pork chops with braised red cabbage, fingerling potatoes, and mustard demiglace; chicken saltimbocca with prosciutto, fontina cheese, sage, and tomato demiglace over red bliss mashed potatoes; surf and turf; and pasta dishes. The Rathskeller also offers an extensive roster of local seafood including broiled Point Judith flounder, seared scallops, and fish and chips.
There are also salads for diners seeking lighter fare; a popular standout is the roasted beet salad with goat cheese, dates, and hazelnuts.
“We have something to appeal to everyone,” Butch restaurantguidesays. “Our daily specials are almost like a whole additional restaurant, with Southern, Asian, German, and French-influenced dishes. We don’t get into the fusion concept. Instead we replicate each dish as authentically as possible. Some specials include German sausages and spaetzle (a homemade noodle), chicken-fried steak, duck confit, and coconut curry chicken stirfry.
“We get inspired by the product that comes in and we have fun putting our creativity to work,” Butch notes. The Rathskeller will be bringing in lots of fresh, local ingredients such as fish from Point Judith and produce from a farm that’s literally a stone’s throw from the restaurant, he adds.
The Rathskeller is building a reputation as a destination for not only refreshments but recreation. The grounds feature a fullsized bocce court and three horseshoe pits. There is live entertainment in the tavern several nights per week. This summer the Rathskeller will host clambakes, car shows, and other special events.
The Charlestown Rathskeller Tavern is located at 489A Old Coach Road in Charlestown. It is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.; the bar is open until 1:00 a.m. The Rathskeller does not accept reservations but does have a call ahead policy. For more information, call (401) 792-1000, send an email to email@example.com, or visit www.thecharlestownrathskeller.com. The Rathskeller is also on Facebook, where it posts daily specials, entertainment, and upcoming events.