Starbolt at 1936 N. Front St.. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Almost five years in the making, Starbolt, an expansive new bar and restaurant on Kensington’s North Front Street, welcomed its first guests last Thursday. 

It’s the latest venture from Patrick Iselin and Jason Evenchik of Time, Heritage, Vintage Wine Bar, and the Goat Rittenhouse. They’re joined this time around by Evenchik’s brother, Craig MacBain.

The name comes from steel bolsters used to uphold building facades. Traditionally star-shaped in Pennsylvania, they were one of the main items forged by James Peters & Son Hardware, the ironworks that operated in the space up until the day it was sold to Iselin and partners.

At 8,900 square feet, the space met the group’s desire for something large, Iselin explained, and the high-beam ceilings and oversized windows with lots of natural light matched the aesthetic they’d been searching for. 

Then there’s the location, a block north of Berks Station on the Market-Frankford Line, which has only recently become surrounded by buzzy cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and bars.

“We were anticipating, even five years ago, that people would follow the El stops,” said Iselin, who lives in nearby Fishtown. “It took so long to open, that the neighborhood started arriving around us.”

The large bar and event room at Starbolt in Kensington. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

The group broke ground a few months before the pandemic and then, “didn’t swing a hammer for two and a half years,” per Iselin. By the time the team was ready to resume work, the former ironworks had become the last original building standing on the block. 

“It wasn’t a specific objective to preserve this architecture,” Iselin said of the group’s intent when purchasing the twin buildings, now conjoined. “But it’s become that way and is a source of pride for us now.”

Reclaimed materials, events, and the ‘Yoda bar’

When Iselin and his partners took over the space, its rooms were still filled with the hardware and manufacturing supplies.  “It was beautiful, in a kind of brutalist way,” he said.

Soot-covered walls were sandblasted, hulking machinery and room-spanning conveyor belts dismantled. An adjoining rowhome that came with the property was torn down and converted into an outdoor space. The open alleyway between the ironworks’ two main buildings was roofed over, transforming it into a corridor where the dartboard now hangs, with the original window frames left intact.

There was plenty of upcycling of objects and material salvaged from the site. The foundry now supports the bathroom sink, while a few of the remaining fire doors, originally made right there, divide the venue’s different spaces. 

Starbolt’s Pok Pok lamb ribs: Thai sticky rib confit topped with pomegranate molasses and lime sauce, Thai herbs, and watermelon radish. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Wood furnishings throughout, from the clusters of cubbies to the cabinet covers and bolt-measurement labels now lining the bar’s back wall, come from the “weird, sixties-Barney Miller-style sort of office” that previously occupied part of the space. 

Most of the work was carried out by Iselin and his partners, with help from the community. “We’ve been up here for a long time,” he said. “So we have a lot of friends who were interested, willing, and capable.”

The trilevel star chandelier extending from the beamed ceiling was made by local welder Chris Worth. The silkscreened patterns covering the bottoms of several wall-mounted fold-up tables are courtesy of artist Miriam Singer. “It really took a village,” Iselin said.

The result is a spacious, modular venue. The main bar’s 12-seat counter conveniently runs through to the larger star-chandeliered event space, which connects to both the outdoor area and Starbolt’s third drinking station, a dimly lit nook referred to by the staff as the “Yoda bar.” 

The Yoda bar at Starbolt. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Nearer the front, a dining area has seating for 40 across tables and banquettes, while stool and counter sets surround the adjacent pool table. Sports play silently on three corner mounted TVs; all Eagles games, Iselin said, will be projected with sound on the large screen.

The idea, he explained, is for Starbolt to “lend itself to being more of a community space than our other spots,” available for everything from weddings and bar mitzvahs to record release parties and flea markets. 

Wings, chickpea fries, and steak au poivre

The menu by executive chef Pat Szoke is similarly thought out. It builds on his experience at other properties of Iselin and Evenchik’s Vintage Syndicate group, Palizzi Social Club, and various Starr and Vetri venues. 

Expect slight seasonal changes, Szoke said, but current offerings include traditional bar food, like a 4-oz. burger or spicy or black garlic wings, and dishes that are slightly “more elevated, more technique-driven.”

The Moroccan-style vegetable tagine “takes ages to do right,” per the chef, and the orange and saffron-glazed roasted chicken requires 24 hours of brining. Even the smoked trout and potato croquettes, he joked, are a bit of a “pain” to prepare.

Other snacks include zaatar-tossed chickpea fries and loaded fries topped with crispy pork belly, beer cheese, and scallions. A selection of more substantial “small” plates is also on the menu, like a shareable serving of pomegranate molasses-drizzled Pok Pok lamb ribs and wasabi-crusted tuna. Most of these items hover in the low teens, ranging from $6 to $22.

Starbolt’s roasted chicken, brined and pan seared, then roasted and topped with an orange saffron glaze and red peppers. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

There are weightier options too: a seasonally-prepared crispy whole trout ($20), and NY strip au poivre with fries ($55) — suggested by Iselin after he realized, Szoke said, that “there’s nowhere [in this neighborhood] where you could sit down at the bar have a cocktail and order a steak.” 

The bar program, devised by general manager Tyler Rombout, who previously oversaw the bar at Time, is equally varied. There are 14 wines to choose from ($10-$14) and seven beers on tap. Bottled beers range from $4 Tecates to $11 Boulevard Tank 7s. 

Cocktails include small twists on standards, like the blood drop Manhattan and Starbolt old fashioned ($16 each). Balancing a light summer sweetness with a subtle earthiness, the Strawberry Signal comes shaken with Fee Foam and topped with black pepper.

It all covers the bases, Iselin explained, between “$4 High Life, and a well-made drink,” meeting the needs of anyone coming in for either a game of pool, a sit-down dinner, or an expertly crafted cocktail.

“It’s a neighborhood bar first and foremost,” Iselin said. “The kind of place that we’d like to go to.”

1936 N. Front St. | 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday to Saturday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday

Scroll down for more pics.

Starbolt, a restaurant, bar, and event space under the El in Kensington. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
A nook near the main dining area at Starbolt in Kensington. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
The skylight and custom chandelier at Starbolt, in a former ironworks in Kensington. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
Starbolt, a restaurant, bar, and event space under the El in Kensington. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
Starbolt’s dart board is in a former tiny alleyway that was roofed over. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
One of three bars at Starbolt. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
Colorful bathrooms at Starbolt. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
The original ironworks foundry was retrofitted into the bathroom area sink. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
One of several dining areas at Starbolt in Kensington. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
The liquor selection at Starbolt, with some materials left over from when the place was an ironworks. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
Starbolt’s Strawberry Signal cocktail: Gin, Aperol, strawberry shrub and Fee Foam topped with black pepper. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
Starbolt’s black garlic wings: sesame soy, brown sugar with black garlic. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)
An iron star bolt at Starbolt. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Ali Mohsen is Billy Penn's food and drink reporter.