Updated 11:30 a.m.
The Vetri Family restaurant at the Navy Yard is getting a new name and a new look this month. Opened late 2014 as rotisserie-focused Lo Spiedo (Italian for “spit” or “skewer”), the bi-level restaurant will be rebranded as Bar Amis.
Culinary director Brad Spence is behind the new concept, which is a spin-off of Amis, the 13th Street trattoria he opened with Marc Vetri back in 2010.
The reason for the change? Mostly, to make the spot more of a neighborhood restaurant, one people visit for dinner.
“Amis has that energy to it that’s different from any of our other restaurants,” Spence said. “When we get together — me and [Amis brand chef] Drew DiTomo and [Amis brand GM] Martin Cugine — we have a ton of fun. And then that translates to the staff, and then most importantly, to our customers.”
Lo Spiedo business was not slowing; per Spence and Vetri executive director of operations Jeff Benjamin it was actually increasing recently.
“We do great lunch and happy hour business down there,” said Benjamin, noting that the campus at the tip of South Broad, where parent company URBN has its sprawling headquarters, has been growing fast. “Four new buildings opened in the past year. And residences are coming. But for now, when the Navy Yard empties out for the day… We certainly want more night traffic.”
So one day last month, as the Vetri the team was kicking around ideas for how to switch things up, Spence came up with his brainstorm.
“We’re sitting in a boardroom talking about it, and Brad was like, ‘Dude, we should call it Bar Amis!’” Benjamin recalled. “I told him to run with it.”
Within three days, the URBN design team had returned with renderings for a quick revamp of the newly-concepted space, and plans were set in motion. The entire first floor will become bar area while the upstairs dining room will structurally stay the same, but be outfitted with new the new decor and vibe.
“The overall vibe at Amis is it’s fun and playful,” GM Cugine told the transitioning staff on Monday morning. “We take ourselves seriously, but when it’s time to have fun as a group, we definitely do it.”
There will be some differences between Amis and Bar Amis, Spence explained. “What’s gonna set it apart is we’re gonna try to think food and alcohol at the same time. We want it to be a a place people can come in and have a couple beers and plate of nachos, or they can come in for the buccatini and pork chop parm.”
The dinner menu at Bar Amis will be similar to the original, with a selection of bruschetta, salumi, salumi, antipasti, contorni (vegetables), housemade pastas and large plates. There will be opportunity for chef de cuisine Jared Frazer — an alum of URBN’s Terrain Cafe and Collingswood’s West Side Gravy — to get creative, because unlike at 13th Street, he has a large wood-fired grill and spit to work with.
Price points between the two locations will be comparable. “I can’t see how it would work to have someone drive 20 blocks away and find the same dish with a different price,” Benjamin noted. Bar Amis will also have a big focus on lunch, which the Center City restaurant does not serve, so expect a burger and an assortment of entree-sized salads.
A new drink list from beverage director Steve Wildy will feature many more wines by the glass than currently offered. Head bartender Anwar Morgan will be a big part of the new spot, Spence said. “People go there and have fun with him, he brings excitement and energy. People should walk out [of Bar Amis] and say ‘Wow, that was a great time!’ not ‘Oh, what an impressive cocktail,’ or ‘Oh, I never saw that beer anywhere else before.’”
Another reason for the rebrand: Private dining. Per Benjamin, the company is constantly turning away customer requests to do special events at Amis, because there simply isn’t space. At the Navy Yard, there is. “Our catering department is so excited for this,” he said.
“One reason this is going to work so well is that Brad’s all fired up about it,” Benjamin added.
The Bar Amis brand will fall under the general Amis umbrella as the company continues to grow. An outpost of Amis that launched this spring in Westport, Conn., is flourishing, Benjamin said. And another Amis is in the plans for the new URBN lifestyle complex at Devon Yards — the Main Line project had been held up by zoning hurdles, but a compromise was worked out last month; it appears to be moving forward.
Lo Spiedo will close at the end of next week, after Vetri’s annual Great Chefs Event fundraiser on June 20, and construction will commence that weekend. On Tuesday, June 27, the restaurant will reopen as Bar Amis.