Union Underground arrives

New restaurant adds more flavor to downtown

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MANCHESTER — Add another weight to the scale measuring commercial critical mass in the downtown corridor.

The new Union Underground restaurant held a soft opening late last month without much publicity but was immediately busy anyway, according to General Manager Erica Lawrence-Dearstyne.

The split-level restaurant adds a third full-service restaurant to a block also home to several other styles of eateries, ranging from pizza to tacos.

Union Underground is in the basement of the former Factory Point National Bank building, built in 1896, which has been redeveloped by co-owners Bill Drunsic and his son, Steve Drunsic.

The main dining room seats about 75, and upstairs from the bar is an outdoor terrace dining space that seats about 50. The deck, under construction, will open in a few weeks.

The concept for the space was Lawrence-Dearstyne's, who pitched it to Bill Drunsic.

"She presented some interesting ideas that we were aligned on, in terms of what exactly to do with the space," said Steve Drunsic.

"She comes with over 20 years in the industry with exposure to a wide range of markets and certainly seems to have her finger on the pulse of what is presently driving expectations among our target demographic."

Lawrence-Dearstyne said she was attracted to the space after thinking about opening a restaurant in Manchester for several years, having previously managed Johnny Seesaw's for a number of years. She was also active in the Chicago restaurant scene for a number of years before relocating to Vermont.

"As soon as I saw this space I fell in love with it and immediately started going to work," she said.

"We had this fantastic surplus space in the bottom floor of the bank building with a great exposed marble foundation and, knowing that the building used to house a couple of drinking establishments at the turn of the last century including The Union Club and the Ondawa Club, we wanted to pay deference to history a bit while also filling a much needed niche right on Main Street," noted Stephen Drunsic. "We also wanted to convert the underutilized green space between the Berkshire Bank building and our own into a vibrant center of activity. What better way than to install a beer garden to compliment the subterranean part of the operation? And so, the Union Underground gastropub concept was born."

Drunsic said Lawrence-Dearstyne is a minor partner in the business, in addition to her role in managing the daily operation.

Lawrence-Dearstyne said the d cor of the restaurant pays homage to history of the building and the area, including using the old bank vault's door to house beer taps for craft beers served on the terrace, and the Vermont Verde marble that tops the "built from scratch" bar.

At the main bar, there are 22 craft beers on tap, all brewed in Vermont or New England. ThUnion Underground now employs about 23, with more hiring expected as the summer approaches.

"We're trying to spend our money close to home," Lawrence-Dearstyne said.

The main dining room also features a pool table, shuffleboard and darts.

The new restaurant is yet another addition to a burgeoning night life for the downtown area, noted Stephen Drunsic. In fact, upstairs from Union Underground is the Mystic Caf , which opened in November 2017, and in the next building over is Thai Basil, another popular eatery. It is a cluster of three restaurtants some have referred to as a fledgling restaurant row.

"With the addition of Mystic Caf -- which I understand has been doing very well - we are filling a gap in the market and Main Street suddenly is lighting up again, both during daytime hours and, more importantly, in the evening," Drunsic said. "You now have five or six eating-drinking options within a very short walking distance in the core -- which begins to resemble an experience you might find over in Saratoga or Burlington, albeit on much smaller scale."

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