Summer visitors making their annual pilgrimage to Portland's venerated Hugo's are in for a surprise when they walk through the door on the corner of Middle and Franklin this season. The wrought-iron wall sculptures, mirrors and other circa-1990s décor are all gone; highlights of the new space will be a wide-open kitchen and large, curving bar meant for dining.
Having made its mark under nationally respected chef Rob Evans, Hugo's was acquired a little more than a year ago by longtime staffers Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, who closed it in March for a massive revamp. Judging by what the trio has done with their snappy-looking and uber-popular Eventide Oyster Co. next door, Hugo's, which already has a sharp new logo, will be hot from the get-go. Because the renovation is still in the Sheetrock-and-buckets-of-drywall-compound stage, Eater asked Smith to fill in the blanks by sharing some design details.
Overall philosophy: "Our goal is to capture more of the Portland vibe. Before, you didn't know what city you were in. It's like Fore Street – when you're in there you know you're in Portland, Maine. We're a 25-year-old restaurant; we're the third generation (of owners) and we're really trying to go back to our roots."
Materials: "We stuck with wood, brick and leather ? rustic, industrial materials" ? which contrast with the kitchen and its "all-custom stainless-steel line."
Seating: Slightly fewer seats than previously, but still 40-plus: "18 at the bar, 2 four-tops in the front windows and 4 leather booths along the brick wall ? the booths are being custom made by local upholsterer Pistol Pete and the bar stools are 'antique whiskey' leather with a French barrel-back design" so they are comfortable for dining.
Bar: "The red birch bar is going to be the coolest thing. The lumber is sourced from the bottom of Moosehead Lake; it's 160 years old. The tables are being made with the same wood."
Bathrooms: "They are Art Deco, with subway tile and a universal trough sink (running through both the men's and ladies' rooms. It's cast concrete, being made by John Mead, who also did the poured concrete bar at Eventide."
Other design elements: "We've exposed the tin ceiling, which is absolutely beautiful; it's a chocolate brown. There is going to be a beautiful 6X6 Eric Hopkins piece on the back wall."