Nov. 29, 2002 – Frenchtown is about to incorporate a few new nationalities under the auspices of the late Bar Normandie.
Tim and Liz Duffy, of Duffy's Love Shacks in Red Hook and Cruz Bay, have taken over the locale, hoping the third time will be the charm. Since the venerable bar closed six years ago, two restaurants have occupied the premises, one Italian and one continental, but neither came up with that elusive touch to make their ventures a success.
Tim Duffy isn't worried. He says he and Liz "have had this dream for years, but we just needed the right locale." The name of their new place is Noche, Spanish for "Night," and it will offer mainly Mexican, Spanish, Argentinian and other Hispanic cuisine — but with Miami and Japanese touches.
Inside the expansive building are a stack of aged wooden beams from the Dominican Republic, terra cotta planters, chandeliers, blown-glass fixtures, a decorative fountain for the new entrance and leather saddles to emphasize the southwestern aspect. Duffy relates how they will all fit together.
"We have traveled all over, from Paris to New York, the D.R. to Mexico, always looking for the right thing," he says. That's both in food and in decor. "We saw a seafood tower in Paris that will be right for us — it's clams, mussels, shrimp all built on a crushed ice tower," he says. It will go on the menu for the main dining room, which occupies a larger room facing the street at the restaurant's front.
Behind this dining room, which will house two horseshoe bars, is a more intimate dining area. Although one menu will be used for both areas, "the energy will be different in each room," Duffy explains. "The front will be more for fun, and the back dining room will be more intimate."
The bars will feature tapas, (Spanish appetizers), jamon serrano, (Spanish cured ham), imported cheeses and olives, and south-of-the-border drinks, including myriad combinations of margaritas, all made with fresh-squeeze juice, and the trendy caipirinha. That's Brazil's national drink, a combination of limes, sugar and the liquor called cachaça.
The menu with be about 40 percent Mexican, not to be confused with Tex-Mex, Duffy says. It will feature different mole (spicy chocolate sauce) dishes and taquitos made from tortillas produced on their own tortilla press, which Duffy picked up in Mexico.
Another 40 percent will be Spanish, including paella, roast pork, whole suckling pig roasted on a rotisserie in the room, and different seafood seviches. And the final 20 percent will be Argentinian, strong on oversized steaks imported from Argentina. Duffy says the prices will be moderate and competitive.
And what about the Japanese infusion? Duffy beams. "This will be something the island hasn't seen, a techno sushi bar," he says. "I've got some really hip sushi chefs coming from New York." He won't go into detail, but says the sushi bar will occupy the old pool room of the Bar Normandie, with a separate entrance on the street.
Behind the dining rooms, a large tiled kitchen with state-of-the-industry equipment is being installed.
And then, there's the upstairs, the former Café Normandie, which closed after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. "It's going to be something the island doesn't have now, either," Duffy says. "It's going to be ultra-plush, a sophisticated cocktail lounge like South Beach in Miami."
It will be, he says, the "in" place for the young, upwardly mobile crowd. "Say, a 35-year-old attorney want to impress his date," he says. "This is where he will take her."
Duffy is changing the façade of the building, too. The oblong windows which now grace the front will be replaced by mission windows with wooden shutters. He says his idea is for the building to acquire a cohesiveness it now lacks. Painters are turning the southern exterior from white and gray to a Southwestern tan.
Undaunted by the magnitude of his new undertaking, Duffy points out: "I was raised in the business." His father, Hugh Duffy, a well-known St. Thomas entrepreneur in the 1960s and '70s, operated a guesthouse, three bars and a discotheque, collectively known as Duffy's, on the Main Street end of Creque's Alley. His upstairs bar was where the Mamas and the Papas hung out and performed in 1964, honing their style on Papa John Phillips' songs.
Tim Duffy first opened a little bar of his own in 1994, in Drake's Passage. After Hurricane Marilyn, he moved the operation to the Red Hook Plaza parking lot, where Duffy's Love Shack has become a kind of institution for the heavy-duty party set. The St. John Duffy's opened in early 2000.
Asked how his laid-back Love Shack reputation would square with his provincial Frenchtown plans, Duffy said: "It's not an issue. This won't be the Love Shack; it's entirely different."
The main restaurant is set to open mid-January, he says, his conversation interrupted by questions from his construction crew and calls from prospective employees. The sushi bar and the upstairs cocktail lounge are slated to open later in the year.

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