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Smash Wine Bar & Bistro

What: Smash Wine Bar & Bistro

Where: Lower level of Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, 425 W. Western Ave., downtown Muskegon

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday. Weekday Happy Hour: 4 p.m. to close Tuesday; 4-6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday

Information: 231-722-9463 or smashwinebar.com

By Rae Rellim

Tucked away on the lower level of Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, Smash Wine Bar & Bistro is a cozy, intimate spot to grab a glass of wine or craft beer and share a small plate.

And who knows – you may even run into a long-lost friend or end up at the bar beside a musician or performer.

“It is kind of a hidden gem because it is below street level off the theater lobby,” says Polly Doctor, the Frauenthal Center’s special project coordinator who handles marketing for Smash Bistro. “But it’s cozy once you get down there. We say it’s casual but upscale dining and we encourage everybody to come if they’re at a show or make it a destination and come downtown for this great little hideaway.”

With a growing number of eateries in the downtown area, one challenge has been bolstering the restaurant’s visibility, new menu and wide selection of wine, beer and specialty drinks. It’s easily overlooked as a dining option because there’s little foot traffic from the street.

Patio dining during the warmer months has helped bring new and old customers to the restaurant, which has operated under different names in the last decade. And while it’s most popular among patrons attending shows at the Frauenthal Center, it’s a great place to meet friends and business associates, come for date night or plan a small party.

“We’ve got a great menu for small plates and shared plates and then we have wonderful salads and homemade soups,” Doctor says. “There are places to accommodate small holiday parties and special events. We can do fun, private parties.”

Smash Wine bar & Bistro opened in fall 2013, and the current chef, Jack Page, joined the restaurant in spring 2014. The al fresco dining area, decorated with red bistro tables, red umbrellas and flowers under the Smash awning along Western Avenue, opened in June 2014 and serves lunch and dinner seasonally.

After years in the corporate restaurant world, Page semi-retired to pursue hobbies and other interests.

“A lot of it was my corporate life didn’t give me the freedom to do all I wanted,” he says. “Working there at Smash lets me be involved in other community things like the luge.”

The Muskegon native keeps a busy schedule, coaching luge at Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, chartering a sailboat with sunset dinner excursions in the warmer months and other community activities.

He is usually on-site through the dinner rush and also works with Culinary Institute of Michigan students at the restaurant.

“A lot of our employees and cooks are students at CIM,” Doctor says. “He hires innovative, young students with really fresh, neat ideas that Jack considers when he puts together his menu.”

Page develops the menu around fresh produce from the market, and fish and meat he buys from local growers such as The Fish Monger’s Wife, The Meat Block, Creswick Farms and others.

“I changed my menus four times a year,” he says. “I source a lot of things locally from the farmers market, so when we get into winter, I do more with potatoes and root vegetables, locally grown produce you can still buy at the market.”

Wine is a focal point in the restaurant and behind the bar – Smash’s selection includes more than 70 bottles and 40 glass pours from around the world. It serves wine flights and hosts special wine and beer dinners and tasting events. But the bistro also features craft beer and a full bar, including specialty martinis.

“We do have a couple of really good mixologists as far as martinis. We’re trying to grab onto that niche,” Page says.

Doctor encourages people to stop in if they haven’t been, either before or after a show or downtown event or for a Happy Hour drink. Small plates, pizzas and other menu items are half price on Tuesdays, so it’s a great night to try it out.

“We’ve opened that menu up and it’s really there for people with small to large appetites,” Doctor says. “You can come for a cup of soup or come in for salmon or pasta. Our desserts are fantastic.”

Smash also has nice ambiance with a waterfall-fountain feature from the upper to lower level, blue LED lighting and a diverse clientele. It’s great for rehearsal dinners and other celebrations. Smash treats guests to dessert on their birthday or bring your marriage license on your anniversary and receive your “year” percent off your check.

“You never know who you are going to see from your friends and family to a performing artist who is taking a break from the stage. A lot of times the star of the show will come down and grab a bite of food before or after,” Doctor says. “It’s a new look, it’s upscale and cozy and again it’s kind of a hidden gem in downtown Muskegon.”

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