N’Awlins Grille to bring southern flavor to Concord’s downtown

Liu Vaine of Weare inside his new restaurant in downtown Concord on Monday.

Liu Vaine of Weare inside his new restaurant in downtown Concord on Monday. RAY DUCKLER / Monitor staff

The entranceway of N’Awlins Grill, set to open in downtown Concord on Tuesday.

The entranceway of N’Awlins Grill, set to open in downtown Concord on Tuesday. RAY DUCKLER / Monitor staff

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 02-12-2024 5:41 PM

The outside door at N’Awlins Grille, which is holding its grand opening Tuesday night just off Main Street, leads to a tiny foyer.

You’ll see a fireplace with a fake fire in it, wallpaper showing a four-pane window with Spanish moss hanging in the background, and a thick, darkly stained rectangular piece of wood, the size of a door, with a gold Gothic-style mirror in the center of the upper half, and a shelf below the mirror.

Think fancy hotel.

A black phone sits out on the shelf, the kind Bogart used in so many films. Pick up the receiver, say “Who’s dat?” and the stained wood and mirror and phone, it turns out, are part of a camouflaged wall that, upon saying the secret password, opens inward. Just like a door.

Such is the off-the-beaten-track nature of speakeasy establishments, the underground drinking and gambling clubs that surfaced during the 1920s, when prohibition banned the making or selling of liquor nationwide.

You spoke easy, in case anyone was listening. If you mingled inside a certain orbit, you knew the password.

Owner Liu Vaine of Weare has opened speakeasy-themed clubs in Manchester, Nashua and Keene, and chose to incorporate a subplot to his Concord venture by adding the mystery of hidden clubs with the the spicy world of New Orleans and its partying, jazz culture.

In the N’awlins Grille, you’ll be greeted by detailed caricatures, all drawn by Vaine, of jazz greats Ella Fitzgerld and Louis Armstrong, and Al Capone, the ruthless gangster who ruled Chicago during prohibition.

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You’ll also see a caricature of famous jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, sketched and painted by Vaine’s 14-year-old daughter, Claudia. It’s great.

That’s just one tasty tidbit from Vaine’s world.

“Through elementary school, she was very artistic and always brought a sketchpad there,” Vaine said. “She’d come with me to work and sketch there as well.”

Vaine, an Army brat, taught English as a second language in China and Vietnam before opening his businesses.

The N’awlins Grille, located at 90 Low Avenue, features fake snakes and spiders positioned in the dangling Spanish moss. Vaine features craft cocktails, a mixture of various blends to create a whole new flavor and name, as had been done in the old speakeasies and clubs in New Orleans.

Featured dishes include fried frogs legs, snow crab clusters, jambalaya, shrimp and grits. But that presented a problem – most New England chefs are handier with a clam than a gator – so finding the right cook was tough.

Adding to an already hectic day Monday, a snowstorm was predicted for Tuesday. Vaine was busy fielding last minute calls, one from the health inspector, who was also part of the last-minute mix.

Vaine announced the opening on Facebook. He said he wasn’t nervous Monday about Tuesday’s grand opening.

“More stressed than nervous,” he said.