The Daily Refresher livens up A-Street

05:00 AM, Jan 18, 2013

The Daily Refresher, at 293 Alexander St., is in space once occupied by the Blue Room. (Gretchen Lee Carletta)/


Written By Leah Stacy

The Daily Refresher
Location: 293 Alexander St.
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
More info: (585) 360-4627 and thedailyrefresher.com.

The elements of Alexander Street newcomer The Daily Refresher are mixed like a custom cocktail (the very item that happens to be its specialty): combining equal parts Prohibition-era speakeasy and industrial décor with a dash of local accents.

Co-founders Jonathan Swan and Cameron Phelps, both 31, want to provide their demographic with a place that doesn’t rely on well shots or draft beers and loud music to entertain, but creates an atmosphere where conversations and cocktails can be savored.

Anybody who wants a sophisticated drink can come here,” says Swan, who also opened Dorado on Park Avenue. “We want to be known, hands down, for the best cocktails in the area.”

They’re calling it Rochester’s first “gastro-lounge,” a term that denotes an emphasis on gastronomy (the art of eating, or the study of food and culture) in a lounge atmosphere.

It’s a spin-off term from “gastro-pub,” arguably the most trendy nightlife scene of the last decade (in fact, the word “gastro-pub” was just added to the dictionary this year).

Such establishments take their cue from British pubs that concentrate on high quality, often times artisan items like gourmet burgers and cheese plates along with alcoholic beverages.

Between May and October 2012, Swan and Phelps completely renovated the building that formerly held the Blue Room. The pair gutted walls, rewired electricity and changed every surface before opening in November. It was a bit later than the projected summer 2012 opening, but they wanted to make sure it was ready.

The first-floor windows are papered with newsprint to create a speakeasy feel, while the bar just inside is paneled with wood from the 1920s-era Coney Island boardwalk. Nestled upstairs are velvet-upholstered chairs, vintage photos and mid-century chandeliers harvested from the Chicago subway — relics that Swan has been collecting over the years in preparation for a space like this one. There’s even taxidermy, a trademark of the Prohibition-era feel they’re aiming for.

That was a time when everything looked and tasted better, and people cared more,” says Swan.

The name reflects the newsprint theme that can be found on the bar’s event posters and website.

That was an evening screaming out ideas at Good Luck,” says Phelps. “We just kept saying, ‘How about Herald, or Chronicle?’ and then we landed on ‘Daily’ and it worked.”

The Daily Refresher serves snacks and light fare like charcuterie, soup and toasted cheese sandwiches, and plans to offer a larger lunch menu (and extended hours) are in the works.

All bar and kitchen menus will stay partially seasonal, allowing for the founders to experiment with cocktail and food ideas they’ve collected in their travels to New York, Austin and San Francisco.

Though the inspiration for The Daily Refresher comes from all over the nation, most of the draft beers are local products, and even the bitters used in cocktail recipes are purchased from Rochester’s Fee Bros.

Polished walnut from Pittsford Lumber Co. makes a handsome countertop, while the furniture comes from estate sales around the city.

And of course, Swan and Phelps themselves are lifelong Rochesterians and graduates of Pittsford Mendon High School.

My favorite part is that we did this all ourselves,” says Phelps. “When people ask who did this or that, we can say, ‘We did all this.’ “