Doing the Josiah Smith Tavern Justice

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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to visit the work in progress at the Josiah Smith Tavern, frequently called the JST. Most of us consider the JST one of three postcard images of Weston (the others being First Parish Church and the Town Green). It is also the place that causes some of the most contention–it’s large, it’s expensive, and it’s ours, Weston. Due to a 500-year preservation deed restriction by Historic New England, the Town of Weston has to maintain this building and not demolish it. Or in other words, love it because you can’t leave it.

And the Owl does love it. At this moment, with the barn in a state of possibility and down to its nubbins (it’s being readied for its restaurant buildout), and the tavern space almost fully beautified, I have a strong need to belly up to the bar in the tap room and have a beer with my favorite Select Board edamame-eater. Sadly, no edamame is yet available nor beer. If you missed the edamame reference, you can watch the replay of the Special Town Meeting in 2019 that approved the renovation of the JST. You can see the full presentation at Special Town Meeting on Weston Media here, JST starts at around the 1:44 mark.

This post will not be about the long history of this building (you can see the timeline at the end of this post), nor about the eight feet of horse poop found under the elevator shaft. Who needs that? Well, someone did–that’s valuable poop. You can read about Josiah Smith, and the Jones sisters, in the wonderful Historical Society write-ups. You can also watch the Wes-TEN’s Cuppa Joe at the Joe, which was filmed in January 2020, just before the JST was shut down for renovation. As editorial comment, it is one of my favorite Wes-TEN’s, mostly because I can see that Pamela Fox, Weston’s Titan of Time, thinks the Wes-TEN is filled with lunatics. Possibly true.

My guide on Friday’s tour was Adrienne Giske, who has been one of the major cheerleaders and hardest workers behind the Friends of the Josiah Smith Tavern (a 501c3 organization) and the actual renovation of the Tavern. While the renovation is being overseen by the Permanent Building Committee, there is an endless number of volunteers who have spent long hours to make this place come back to life, perhaps none more involved than Adrienne.

Good old days at the Barn (carriage painting in the late 1800s)

After donning our hard hats (okay mine was a pink bicycle helmet)  we went in through the door that used to lead into the Women’s Community League “shop”. Remember the good old days of $2 wine glasses and fluffy sweaters? Sigh. Ah well, the front area will now be an entry to the restaurant and bar. And no, the restaurant owner has not been chosen yet–there is a process for that which includes semi-finalists and tough questions from the Dartmouth interview committee (oops, shades of my old college interviews)–really, the Select Board. There have been quite a few tours of the space, several repeat visitors, and much of the baseline kitchen area is in place.

To the left, in the old stable area, the “bones” of the six stalls are now on view and the light shines in from the giant front window. Will this be the bar area? Probably. Again, I’m first in line: no pushing. Towards the back, where the crafts festivals used to take place, there will be the dining area, as well as bathrooms. Use your imagination–during the restaurant buildout, this will take on the theme chosen by the restauranteur. There will also be space to the right of the front door that will be seating, and a ramp will lead up to the kitchen area, which is essentially where you tried on the fluffy sweaters in the past.

Kitchen area ready for restaurant buildout–this is where the racks of sweaters were…

In the huge kitchen space, there is metal and fire safety equipment, new HVAC and all the engineer-y stuff that I need to brush over because I’m totally not qualified to comment. The restaurant owner will have the responsibility to outfit this as part of their lease–you can expect an additional 6-8 months for that part to get done given backlogs in appliances and other equipment–heck, my own new SubZero is only expected to come in May 2022.

Space for outdoor dining patio

A new fancy emergency staircase, elevator and store room are in back, as is a loading dock so that no major truck traffic will cause even more issues at the Intersection of Doom (BPR/Church/School). All nice, all boring. Oh, non-boring is the fact that there will be an outdoor patio for eating and watching the Intersection of Doom, the Town Green and the First Parish Church. All the postcards in one!

Now let’s head into the Tavern part of the building–are you following me? Here’s a map.

Landscape map cropped to show Tavern portion only.

There are two event rooms as you come over from the kitchen part of the JST–one is a beautiful rectangular space with a fireplace, and the second is the old Tap Room. Both are nicely renovated with beautiful new lights–I should mention that the fireplaces in the JST are not going to be functional. That was my only disappointment in the entire place. Fire regulations–don’t mess with them.

In case you are beginning to think that the Tavern is only about eating and drinking, once you leave the Tap Room you are in the main foyer of the JST, and space that will be occupied by community groups. The three organizations that initially committed to lease space are the Weston Historical Society, Weston Forest & Trail Association and the Women’s Community League. None of the spaces are fully ready yet–that is expected to happen in the early spring. There is also room roulette going on, so I’m not going to commit to who is going where but suffice it to say, the tenants should be pretty excited for the new digs. 

On the second floor, you cannot help but be drawn into the Rose Ballroom. Oh all right, it’s an Event Room but who wants that when you can have a Rose Ballroom? This room can be rented for up to 45 people, plus 4 servers, and that makes 49 (yes, as always, I am right-on in the mathy department).

Just outside the Rose Ballroom is a light-filled corridor that may display art from the Art & Innovation Center. Other rooms on the floor will be occupied by community groups that will have to duke it out for who has the best view and paint color. Also available is a tiny kitchen for use by the tenants–I can’t wait for WFTA to start sticking smelly foraged mushrooms into the fridge. 

Back downstairs, we stuck our hard-hatted heads into the former chicken coop which will be used for storage. Not of chickens. Then we went outside to take a gander at the wine-tasting patio (maybe) and the wastewater treatment tanks. I can speak to wine-tasting patios but wastewater issues are waaaaaaayyyy out of my league. If you’re interested, Adrienne can tell you lots.

The parking lot will fit quite a number of cars, dumpsters, disabled parking AND trees! This cannot have been easy going–the boulders are crazy huge. There will soon be a rain garden and strolling garden–benches are in place, but the gazebo is not. Yet. Work, work, work.

I can’t wait to give updates on the landscaping…but it’s not time yet. Here’s the full map of landscaping. Enjoy!

Design by Tom Wirth Associates

And there ends my tour of the new and better JST. I have to say my impression is that the place is a wonderful combination of the familiar and old, and the modern (bathrooms that work, hooray!). Creaky floors and old wood framework inside, and new windows looking out on the new and old trees on Boston Post Road. Did George Washington sleep in the room where WFTA will hang its maps? Did he ever sleep? Who heard the Knox cannons roll by while sitting on the front porch? I don’t know but I plan to make it up in my next edition of JoSTice–the JST comes back to life.

See you at the Tavern in a few short months!

Timeline by Pam Fox, Weston Historical Society

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