Ben Poremba to launch Bar Moro in former Billie-Jean space in Clayton this fall
Ben Poremba’s Bengelina Hospitality Group will launch a new “Hispanic-Mediterranean” restaurant, Bar Moro, in the former Billie-Jean space at 7610 Wydown Blvd. in Clayton. Poremba is planning a late September launch for the new restaurant.
The announcement completes a series of deals that have seen three high-profile St. Louis restaurateurs move into spaces on Wydown Boulevard previously occupied by restaurateur Zoe Robinson’s acclaimed restaurant trio. In March, Take Root Hospitality took over the Bar Les Freres space, before opening Bistro La Floraison in July. Meanwhile, Louie’s chef-owner Matt McGuire is currently renovating the I Fratellini space in preparation for launching Wright’s Tavern.
Poremba said Bar Moro will reflect his passion for the cuisines of the Iberian Peninsula, including the North African influences that have helped shape the region’s food culture. “I love Spanish food culture,” Poremba said. “I wanted to do this concept for a very long time. This space just lends itself to this sort of thing, due to its size and location, interior design. It made sense.
The menu will include tapas, main courses and a selection of conservas – canned seafood ranging from razor clams to mackerel. These are very popular in Spain and Portugal, and Poremba is delighted to serve them to customers at Bar Moro. “We’re not talking about 99 cent sardines, we’re talking about nice $30 and $40 knives,” Poremba said. “It’s amazing, the quality of these canned fish in Spain – it’s unmatched.” Bar Moro’s menu will also include saltfish, octopus, carne asada and lamb skewers, with occasional paella specials.
The name “Moro” (meaning “Moor” in Spanish) alludes to another key aspect of the Poremba concept. The chef is keen to highlight the Moorish influence on Iberian culinary traditions, a legacy of North African domination over Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages. The lamb skewers are just one example of what Poremba has in store on that front. “It’s the spices, some of the condiments, like harissa, candied lemons,” he said. “I’m going to incorporate things like using dried fruit. The flavors are going to be heavily influenced by the neighbors to the south, so to speak.
The Iberian theme will also be present in the drinks menu. Poremba’s wine director is currently in Spain to “do a little deep dive” on sherry, which he says will be reflected in the bar’s program. The botanical flavors of vermouth and gin and tonic will also feature prominently, and the focus will be on Spanish and Portuguese wines, with the option of adding a few Moroccan wines to the mix.
Poremba described the vibe at Bar Moro as “casual enough for locals to come in and walk around in their flip flops, but also nice enough for people to hang out in,” he said. While Bar Moro will unveil some interior updates, Poremba pointed out that the restaurant will retain much of the spirit of Billie-Jean. “I want to have a lot of Zoe in there,” he said. “It’s very important to me that his footprint and his legacy remain.”
The jet black walls of the space will remain, as will some furniture. “I’m replacing the art and replacing a few touches here and there, but it’s going to look like it was – the spirit of the space remains the same,” Poremba said. He estimated the size of the restaurant at around 1,000 square feet and said Bar Moro will accommodate around 36-40 diners, with some additional seating on the terrace.
Bar Moro will be the latest addition to Bengelina’s collection of restaurants and dining concepts, joining Olio and Elaia, The Benevolent King, Nixta, AO&Co and the upcoming Deli Divine, scheduled to open in February 2023.
Poremba said Bar Moro will only open for dinner, although the restaurant could open as early as 4 p.m. to “catch a bit of the happy hour genre.” Initially, he said, the restaurant could open Tuesday through Saturday, but eventually the goal is to be open six days a week.