Matt Haskell has returned home, and downtown Bangor is now the better for it.
Haskell, 34, is a Bangor native, and he’s seen the decline of the city’s downtown. Now the 1996 Bangor High School graduate aims to be part of its rebound; he opened the restaurant and bar Blaze on Jan. 17.
The restaurateur has opened Blaze at 16 Broad St., for 26 years the home of the landmark Whig & Courier Pub, which closed in 2010.
“I’ve been watching Bangor’s growth, especially downtown, and seeing the community support,” Haskell said. “That’s quite the opposite of even 10 years ago. I thought that space at the center of everything needed someone to go in there and build something cool.”
“Something cool” in this case is a blend of wood-cooked cuisine, craft beer and wine, and locally sourced ingredients.
The heart of Blaze is a kitchen that features a wood-fired, Argentinian Asador grill, made by Grillworks of Ann Arbor, Mich., and a wood-fired brick oven, created by Washington mason Pat Manley. “[The brick oven] is my pride and joy,” Haskell said.
Manning these are Old Town native Josh Heikkinen and Orono native Duncan Gunn, both chefs formerly with Bar Harbor restaurants. The menu, which Haskell describes as “modern New Age American,” includes artisanal pizzas, wood-roasted meats and seafood, salads and specialty vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes. Blaze is the first eatery in Bangor to offer a year-round raw bar and to butcher meat on site.
There are 52 craft beers on tap, as well as an extensive bottle selection, and a wine list that features more than 130 selections.
When it comes to ingredients, as much as possible “we focus on local and sustainable products,” Haskell said.
He has been involved with several area restaurants: the Bear Brew in Orono, which he owned from 2002 to 2010; Finback Ale in Bar Harbor, a pub open since 2010; and the first Blaze, opened in 2012 in Bar Harbor.
It has required all that experience to ready Blaze, as it took Haskell and his architect, Robert Ervin of Ervin Architecture, 18 months to renovate the 133-year-old building. Among the new touches in the 3,000-square-foot building are reclaimed Maine Heritage Timber, used on the walls of the bar and for the bar itself, and a wall fixture featuring a hand-cut wooden floral pattern against a red background.
A new floor plan allows Blaze to have double the seating of The Whig, with that number sure to rise with outdoor seating in warmer weather and the completion of the upstairs in the not-too-distant future.
Blaze is open for dinner Monday-Wednesday, lunch and dinner on Thursday and Friday, and brunch, lunch, and dinner on Saturday and Sunday.
Blaze has been mobbed in the early going, with a significant wait for a table.
Haskell has been thrilled by the turnout. On Blaze’s Facebook page, he wrote, “We are so overjoyed with the super-positive response and are grateful for every one of you and thank you all very much for your tremendous support … The Bangor community is fantastic and so super-supportive, we just appreciate you all so much and we want to do the best job we possibly can.”
Current hours are 3 p.m.-1 a.m., Monday-Wednesday (dinner until 9 p.m.); 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Thursday and Friday (dinner until 10 p.m.); and 9:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Saturday and Sunday (dinner until 9 p.m.). For more information, call 922-2660 or visit Blaze on Facebook.