There’s a new bar on State Street — but you might have trouble finding it.
205 Dry is a restaurant and bar, modeled after 1920s speakeasies, that offers its guests a break from life in 2018. The lounge-style bar, which opened its doors to patrons on Wednesday, Jan. 24, is hidden from street view. Arriving at the restaurant at 205 State St., bookshelves are all you’ll see through the large windows. After entering the literature-adorned vestibule, the experience of 205 Dry begins: a bell rings, a bookshelf becomes a door and an elderly gentleman wearing a top hat greets you. You are transported back in time, into the whimsical world of 205 Dry.
“I just want people to feel like they’re not in Binghamton anymore,” said owner Alise Willerton.
The impetus for the restaurant came from Willerton’s honeymoon with her husband, Phillip, in Paris. During their trip in winter 2017, Willerton said she and her husband were inspired by their visits to various speakeasies throughout the city.
The interior of 205 Dry, designed by Willerton herself, is decorated creatively and authentically for the period. There are paintings, posters, Edison bulbs, velvet-upholstered couches and fur throw pillows — it’s almost like every inch of the restaurant was considered. Willerton and her staff add to the ambiance by wearing period-appropriate attire in mostly black and white. The dark restaurant is lit by chandeliers hanging from its high ceilings and candles on each table. The menus are backlit, providing the only anachronistic aspect of the experience — even the bathroom is adeptly decorated.
Willerton is no novice business owner. In addition to this new project, she owns and runs Uncorked Wine and Chocolate Loft, which sits directly above 205 Dry. Initially, Willerton bought the loft for Uncorked before purchasing the rest of the building last December. This purchase also allowed for the expansion of Uncorked, which now has a ceramics and pottery studio.
In planning for the new establishment, the building’s architectural integrity was something Willerton said she wanted to take advantage of.
“I knew that I was going to do something big on the first floor, and I wanted to keep the original old-school character down here,” she said.
Willerton graduated from Broome Community College with a major in fine arts. She said she worked as a bartender for seven years and interned for various interior design agencies prior to opening Uncorked and 205 Dry. With her new project, Willerton combined her interior design skills with restaurant experience to create a unique, ambient experience for customers.
“It’s crazy that I brought my art background and my bartending experience all together in one business,” she said.
But make no mistake — it’s not only the design of 205 Dry that is special. The menu touts bar classics like nachos and fries, but with French and nostalgic twists that differentiate its offerings from other local spots like The Colonial or Galaxy Brewing Co. Rather than french fries as a starter, the restaurant offers poutine; instead of typical nachos, 205 Dry serves duck confit nachos.
Phillip Willerton, Alise’s husband, is currently the head chef, though his wife says he is not formally trained. Together, Alise said, they crafted the menu to offer “elevated bar bites” — food that is familiar, but of higher quality than typical bar fare. The menu offers appetizers and entrees, and will offer dessert in the near future, according to Alise.
“We’re huge foodies — we go to New York, Paris, everywhere, just to try different types of food,” Alise said. “So [the menu] will definitely be ever-evolving.”
The drink menu will drive most to 205 Dry, both for its coy references to Prohibition and its unique offerings. The cocktail list is called “205’s Giggle Water,” offering strong and fun drinks. There are classics like Moscow mules and margaritas, as well as delicious inventions like the “Rosey Posey,” a gin drink featuring rose water, that is refreshing and exciting.
While the bar is on the same block as Social on State, a popular spot for Binghamton University students and community members alike, Alise said she doesn’t suspect the two bars will be in competition due to their inherent differences and the notion that adjacent bars naturally improve each other’s business.
“We brought something so different [to the area],” Alise said. “I think they’re getting a lot of business from us, because when we go on a wait, people go there now.”
As for the relatively niche and complex nature of 205 Dry, Alise said she did hours of research in preparation for its opening — everything from the biggest elements down to the silverware and plates.
“I wanted everything to look retro and perfect,” Alise said. “The teacups came from antique bookstores all over this area. I wanted it to be very authentic-feeling.”
The authenticity of the restaurant seems to be working. Alise said that in 205 Dry’s first week, patrons lined up down the block — looks like the speakeasy won’t be a secret for long.
Kara Jillian Brown contributed reporting to this story.