Back in 2011, area business owner, minister, and family man, Cliff Nance, 33, sought to connect with the community in a new, uniquely personal way—and he soon latched on to a seemingly novel means of making it happen. While several of his own peers criticized his vision, saying that the idea would never “hold water” in a relatively smaller community like Madisonville, Nance pushed forward with his plan to establish a metropolitan-style gastropub in the heart of the city’s historic downtown district. Furthermore, Nance chose what some would coin as an audacious, yet simultaneously ambitious, name for his new eatery: The Crowded House.
“I’ve been in ministry for about 12 years. I was preaching from the pulpit during most of that time, but I began to feel like God was leading me in a different direction. I felt like he wanted me to be more relational,” says Nance of his initial inspiration for founding the restaurant. “It’s not that preaching isn’t relational, but it is detached in a sense. I’m reading a book right now called,A Meal with Jesus, and if you look at Jesus’ life—especially in the gospel of Luke—food always seems to be involved in some way. Whether he’s performing a miracle around food at someone’s home or bringing food to the masses, it’s present a lot of the time. In fact, on the back of our menus it says, ‘The son of man came eating and drinking.’ Jesus was called a drunkard and a sinner because he hung out with those kinds of people, you know? That’s who he surrounded himself with. So, the meal is something that’s important to me and it’s important in our family’s home. With that in mind, and with a goal of doing something community-oriented, my family and I prayed for an idea. We wanted to meet the needs of the community first. Well, if you polled people, asking them what they would like to see in Madisonville, a ‘cool restaurant’ would probably be in their top three answers, so that’s what we decided to do.”
Concerning the minimally modern, yet artistically-inspired, industrial aesthetic he had in mind—which would soon become a reality—Nance explains that he simply wanted to offer something “cool” and “outside of the box” to regional residents.
“There was this perspective that if you did something here, it had to fit into this certain ‘Madisonville criteria.’ Well, we wanted to break the mold, so to speak. We wanted to do something that someone might not normally do in Madisonville and show everyone that it could be successful,” says Nance.
Opened on October 31st, 2011, at 26 West Center St., it was no time before The Crowded House was living up to its name and Nance’s expectations. In fact, within mere weeks the brick-walled gastropub became a premiere downtown destination for a wide variety of patrons seeking a contemporary atmosphere, hospitable service, and distinctive—yet affordable—sandwiches, salads, soups, brews, and desserts. Additionally, the introduction of the business marked a substantial investment in the city’s historic downtown district, bringing new jobs and added on-foot traffic, which, in turn, brought new commerce to other nearby businesses.
And while the restaurant undoubtedly flourished in reputation throughout the following year-plus, Nance began to notice that more and more of the restaurant’s fans were only coming in for lunch. Though weeks where the numbers of dinner or evening customers were higher brought the biggest returns, Nance says it seemed liked the location had become primarily known as a midday hotspot.
“When we opened The Crowded House up for dinner, we saw a notable increase in profits during good weeks; we’d be in the black when we’d have a lot of people coming for dinner,” says Nance. “The problem was that we became the ‘best lunch place.’ So, when people thought about going to dinner somewhere that was nice, they had two or three other restaurants in town that they thought about. I go to those places, too, and they’re really great places to go, but we weren’t even being considered in the running.”
His solution: serious expansion and rebranding efforts via the addition of an adjoining bar and music venue.
“I said, number one, ‘If we shut down for a while, people will forget us enough to wonder what we were going to do when we reopen.’ So, being shut down for a while allowed us to ‘rebrand’ ourselves and the business,” says Nance. “Now, with the reopening and reinvention of the restaurant, we’re focusing more on dinner. We’re not a steakhouse; we’re a high-end, gourmet gastropub just like before, but now we have a seriously amazing lineup for dinner.”
Coined as the Green Dragon Tavern—a name which was inspired by the original Boston, MA tavern where several of our nation’s forefathers helped to ferment the American Revolution—the fresh, neighboring addition and numerous on-site renovations to the original location have been ongoing since the beginning of the new year. Although recent “soft openings” accessible to Madisonville-Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce members have given several area residents a sneak peek at the roomier eatery, new bar, and expanded menu—images of which have been “leaked” onto social media sites like Facebook—the restaurant will be opening its doors to the public at-large on Tuesday, March 19th, from 10am-10:30pm.
So, what are some of the changes the public can look forward to checking out?
Food-wise, several new dishes, including a variety of certified Angus steaks, baby back ribs, grilled pork “rib-eyes,” chicken, and grilled salmon, as well as appetizers like calamari, “Yukon Gold,” and lettuce wraps, lend themselves to The Crowded House’s original lineup of entrees and desserts.
Aesthetically, the raw, partially unfinished brick walls remain a fixture in the original portion of the restaurant, while lower-sitting, leather-bound booths have replaced the wide high-topped tables; the glass-paned façade of the location has been extended to the sidewalk (making way for a comfortable waiting area); and the open kitchen area—along with doubling in size—has been relocated to very rear of the site. In turn, the seating capacity has risen to an estimated 80 people within the pre-established side of the restaurant. Additionally, artwork created by acclaimed local artist, Barbie Hunt, will adorn portions the original location’s walls.
As the Green Dragon Tavern is a completely new area of the gastropub, both return customers and those new to the locale will be pleased to note a bar area that is fully-stocked with high-end brews, wines, and spirits. What’s more, the approximately 50-person pub-style area is host to a raised stage for live music, both booths and tables, a premium sound system, roadside scenery windows, and an architecturally unique recessed ceiling, as well as an eye-catching paint scheme. Those who enjoy the history-inspired tag of the new addition should also make sure to check out the fitting quotation painted above the tavern’s bar area: “The Meeting Place of the Revolution…”
In keeping with the new stage area and bar, Nance says that regional acts will be performing at The Green Dragon on Friday and Saturday nights. Keeping it open to up-and-coming artists, Nance also notes that a public “open mic night” will be held in the tavern area at least once a month.
“I think music is definitely important if you’re looking at the community aspect of things,” says Nance, who is himself a longtime drummer and guitarist. “I think that it’s important for a community to reach out to all aspects of their local culture. Historically, things that are easy and convenient are things that are catered to locally, and, as a result, you’ve got places like Wal-Mart making it. I’m headstrong enough, and I’ve put enough capital into what I have here, that people who are into the music scene will come and it will be successful. I feel the same way about art and the potential for a full-on arts district downtown, too.”
But beyond reinventing the business and expanding upon the visual appeal, as well as the menu and the drink selection, seating capacity, and live music capabilities, Nance’s recent overhaul of the business has created over 20 new jobs and weighs in at a total downtown investment of approximately $500,000 overall.
And, in the opinion of this editor, what Nance is doing for our community, and how he’s doing it, is a real revolution: bringing new life to historic downtown Madisonville in a bold, but mutually beneficial way.
So, if you’re looking to grab some great dinner or lunch in a modern, yet affordable and hospitable setting, check out The Crowded House/Green Dragon Tavern in downtown Madisonville, KY on, or any day after, their grand reopening on March 19th (26 West Center St.).
To learn more about The Crowded House/Green Dragon Tavern, take a moment to visit their official Facebook page by clicking here.
-Written By: Luke Short