Chef Tom Crowshaw lets the plates drop against the counter. "One Silverburger and one Accidental Purist," he yells down the length of the bar before grabbing two glasses and filling them to the brim. He slides the overflowing beers up next to the two burgers, one classic — loaded with chili, bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheese — and one garden — topped with grilled apples, caramelized onions, melted brie, tomato marmalade and mesclun greens. He wipes his face against his right forearm and adds, "And two Dogfish Heads," before he retreats back to the grill.
Tom has been sweating through his evenings at the Ivy Tavern for nearly five years now, helping regulars kick back to platefuls of heart-warming food and glassfuls of ice-cold draft beer. But Brown students, he says, have never really been a part of the crowd.
Nestled amongst Hope Street's shops and eateries, the Ivy Tavern's facade is subdued and unassuming, save a large sidewalk easel that rests at its front and reads: "Welcome to the IVY — a cool little place with GREAT FOOD." The front door swings open to the soft buzz of conversation, the clattering of silverware and the aroma of a sizzling grill.
"I was going for a cross between a gentlemen's tavern and a place everyone would want in their neighborhood," said David Silverberg, owner and founder of the Ivy Tavern.
Inside, sports memorabilia line the pub's sponge-painted walls and dimly lit ceilings pour soft light down onto the small tables that surround its wooden bar. "It's the type of setup that makes people feel at home," Silverberg said.
"A lot of the decorations I already had at the time and they really went with the homey sports bar theme," he said.
Televisions hang throughout the tavern and customers follow sporting events around New England from cramped tables.
Silverberg maintains a specials section that he changes weekly, complementing consistent favorites like the Cool Breeze — an eggplant sandwich topped with pesto, sundried tomato salsa and melted mozzarella — and the Salmon Sensato — a croissant sandwich filled with broiled salmon, mesclun greens, balsamic tomato, and the tavern's own lemon-dill-dijon salmonaise sauce.
"I always try to have veggie and salad specials," Silverberg said. "And the garden burger is one of the most popular dishes."
But for hungrier patrons, plenty of pub classics round off the menu. It also offers a half-pound burger, chili cheese fries and the Astro — a generously stacked sandwich filled with pastrami, ham, sauteed onions and peppers, beer mustard and swiss.
Silverberg understands he has to please a tough audience.
"People in this town are dialed into the better things," he said, so "good food was always the idea."
Despite its status as an East Side institution, Silverberg's pub had to endure a rough start before it hit its stride.
When he opened the tavern in May 2003, he ran his first advertisement in The Herald. Brown students seemed the ideal clientele for the quaint, intimate eatery. But the ads brought only a few Brown professors — and no students. "I didn't think the mile or so up Hope Street would stop kids from coming, but maybe it did," Silverberg said.
Whether or not it was distance that deterred students from visiting the 758 Hope St. pub, Silverberg was forced to look elsewhere for his customer base, and began focusing on local residents. "At the time, there wasn't really a bar on the street," he said. "I thought this could be the one."
But Silverberg knew it was not going to be easy. Having run a successful restaurant on
Block Island before moving to Providence, he was familiar with the ups and downs of the industry. "I've learned that it's a tough business, and Providence in particular is full of great places," Silverberg said.
"You need to find a way to separate yourself," he said.
So when Rhode Island Monthly listed the pub in its Best of Rhode Island 2005 installment, Silverberg knew that he had found the distinction he was looking for. "It changed the whole game," he said. "It completely changed how I was doing business and who I was doing business with."
Since then, the small tavern has become a neighborhood staple, fielding crowds of locals night in and night out. "I think people really liked what I was doing here," Silverberg said of his pub's continued success.
But people crowd the place for many different reasons. "Some come week after week for an after-work drink, some come for a specific dish and some even come for a specific employee," he said.
"One time I took the Polka Dog off the menu and two of my loyal customers stopped coming," he said.
Why Brown students haven't yet found a favorite burger or waitress at the neighborhood pub, Silverberg can't say, but he hasn't given up. "Hopefully I'll get some students soon," he said.