OLD TOWN, Maine — In what could be a spark of hope for downtown Old Town, concert promoter Alex Gray said he’s planning to open his latest development — a combination music venue and upscale restaurant-bar — in just a few short months.
A prominent businessman, Gray seems to have a knack for bringing life back into forlorn buildings. His company helped to redevelop Aura, a nightclub in Portland, and now he’s focusing his efforts back home to help revitalize the downtown Old Town — an area largely devastated by a fire in September.
Gray, an Old Town local, is probably best known for his role in bringing artists from around the nation and beyond to perform at the Waterfront Concerts in Bangor. He also garnered attention in recent years after being handed a domestic violence charge for allegedly assaulting an ex-girlfriend — which was ultimately dismissed in 2018.
In Old Town, Gray has ambitious plans to transform a large brick building at 283 Main St. into a live music spot and nightclub. Last year, he expanded on his initial design plans to incorporate an upscale restaurant and bar.
Gray’s elaborate visions for the venue include features that will be brand new to Old Town and even to some larger cities across the state. He wants to create a space where people can dine on the first floor with access to stylish cocktails then take a trip upstairs for entertainment — live music performances.
Although the Old Town space is not yet open to the public and Gray has not set an official opening date, he gave the Penobscot Times a tour of the site’s progress on Tuesday.
Stepping over sawdust and building materials scattered around the floor, Gray moved through the space, explaining the most notable details of his plans.
The first floor of the venue will have a bar and restaurant with an open-concept style kitchen in the back. The space, which formerly housed Kingman’s, still has the spray-painted murals on the walls of a king dressed in a purple robe, relaxed on his throne, surrounded by colorful graffiti.
Gray said he plans to ice-blast the mural to restore the original brick underneath. The first-floor kitchen will also be an open-concept style and feature large glass windows so diners can see in.
He’s planning to bring in a wood-fired grill and oven to cook on, too.
“Downtown Old Town is gonna smell like a campfire all the time,” Gray said, as he pointed out where the appliances will go and what stations will be available to prepare dishes.
Two wide sets of staircases in the back of the room leads to the second floor, where Gray plans to develop the nightclub. He talked about bringing established and emerging artists to perform in the venue and the types of music he wants the club to feature, as construction workers drilled loudly in the corner of the room.
Gray said that the second level is going to have specially insulated flooring to reduce noise that might filter down to the restaurant. A large screen will be mounted to the wall — sort of like a jumbotron, he said — that will be used to host video conferences.
Hidden in the back is a small private room for visiting artists to record videos while performing at the venue.
But in the warmer months, the true draw of the facility might be the rooftop bar, which is tentatively slated to open in May.
Gray, who frequently travels the country and beyond seeking out artists to perform in Maine, said that rooftop bars have started popping up in bigger cities around the nation, and it was a feature he wanted to incorporate in the new space.
“This is the new thing to do,” he said.
The business has been in the works for some time, and while Gray said he aims to open in the next couple months, he’s not holding himself to a strict timeline. He’s more focused on making the space exactly right when it does open.
To oversee the operation, Gray has hired Deanna Karam, a former general manager at 11 Central in Bangor, who will be responsible for managing the waitstaff and supervising the business.
She said that the business will need to hire approximately 80 employees to work in the restaurant.
While the downtown may not have as much foot traffic as some other cities in the Penobscot region, Gray said that he chose Old Town solely because it’s his hometown and he wants to see it thrive once again. “We tried to envision what would make people come to Old Town,” he said
He also hopes the business will encourage others to invest in the city, too.
“This’ll start to change a trend in Old Town,” he said.