The noodle soup offerings will be accompanied by related fare.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A downtown bar known for its impressive tap list, chalkboard walls, and "paint a pint" events is expanding to survive the pandemic.
The currently closed Thistle and Mirth pub is reopening as a spacious ramen restaurant and bar by taking over the abutting space that formerly housed Berkshire Print Shop on West Street
Beginning in spring, it will be ladling up the noodle soup, similarly themed menu items, and drinks Tuesday through Saturday for dinner service, takeout, and eventually lunch.
Co-owner Austin Oliver said it is important to him to maintain the glory of the pub in the renovation while adding the element of ramen and abiding by COVID-19 regulations. The bar has been boarded up since the statewide lockdown in March, sparking questions and concerns from regulars who consider it home.
"I believe in Pittsfield," Oliver added.
He said Thistle and Mirth was essentially forced into the expansion as the pandemic was extended for longer periods of time. For almost a year now, bar service has not been permitted in Massachusetts without the sale of food. But the bar's size would permit only one table for seating under the state guidelines because of its narrow layout.
He and original owner Joad Bowman were brainstorming avenues of expansion before the pandemic, Oliver said, so in a way, it was a "blessing in disguise" having to re-evaluate everything and devise this plan.
The Licensing Board approved bar's expansion into the print shop in late August and renovations have been underway since. Aside from a kitchen build-out and updated electrical elements, the original Thistle and Mirth looks the same, Oliver said.
The former print shop was transformed to look like the exact opposite of the bar, boasting light colors, lots of plants, and artwork from local artist Michael Russo.
Thistle and Mirth's cuisine will be prepped in the former Lucia's Latin Kitchen on Wendell Avenue Extension under Oliver's management. The catalyst for his and Bowman's partnership was Oliver's 2019 pop-up at Thistle and Mirth called The Ugly Duck, which served an array of fare including ramen, banh mi, tacos, and flavored popcorns.
For now, the ramen shop will not take over the identity of Thistle and Mirth, but Oliver isn't ruling out further expansion in the future.
"If the ramen goes really well this could be an extension of Mirth and become more of an entertainment-centered side of Mirth, and we can move the ramen somewhere else so that can be its own standalone thing," he said.
The restaurant will operate with a small staff for time being, Oliver said, with himself, Bowman, longtime bartender Zack Morris, and some kitchen staff and servers.
Someday, Oliver hopes that customers will be able to sit at the bar, sing karaoke, and play trivia at Thistle and Mirth like the good old days.
"So much of Mirth was community and people on top of each other, coming together, having fun," he said.
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