It was big news when Expat, the new bar and restaurant from Jerry Slater, opened in Athens last week.
Slater is a whiskey expert and well-known barman, who recently collaborated with Sara Camp Milam on “The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails” (University of Georgia Press, $29.95).
He also has a degree in literature, a love of Faulkner, and a deep background as the director of restaurants at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Ky., and a consultant at One Flew South in Atlanta.
But many know Slater best as the owner of H. Harper Station. The Reynoldstown restaurant he opened in 2011 in the old Atlanta & West Point Railroad Freight Depot on Memorial Drive, and closed in April 2016, saddening area cocktail enthusiasts.
Slater opened Expat with his wife, Krista, who is a certified sommelier, and partnered on the beverage program at H. Harper Station. The Slaters hired Atlanta chef Savannah Sasser, formerly of Twain’s and Hampton + Hudson, as the executive chef.
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Together, the trio is presenting its vision of a French-American bistro, with an all-day menu, and a reliance on a wealth of produce and products from nearby farms and producers.
Located in a vintage house in Five Points that was mostly recently home to Two Story Coffee, the renovated space features two new kitchens, and rightfully includes a long, stylish bar.
There are several cozy dining nooks on the main floor. And upstairs, there’s an intimate lounge, where guests can enjoy evening cocktails at a smaller bar, and spin vinyl on a turntable.
Recently, I caught up with Slater and Sasser, just before they kicked off a preview party at Expat.
“The wine will be really important to us this time,” Slater said, gesturing to the back bar. “We have a bigger wine list by the glass and bottle. But we still have plenty of whiskeys back there, and we got a little more into scotch, and a lot more into Irish whiskey this time.
“The upstairs bar will be a little more about classic cocktails that are more stirred and boozy. We’re calling the downstairs cocktail list autobiographical, with two dozen cocktails, including three different daiquiris, and a couple of different martinis and Manhattans.”
Asked about the big ideas behind Expat, Slater said there were two main inspirations.
“This house was built in the 1930s. I’ve got a degree in literature. Krista has an art history degree,” he said. “We both love that expat in Paris time of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, but we were also looking for a niche in Athens.
“There are all kinds of things that are doing great here. But this is an all-day bistro, with a French accent, and that is a little different. Come in anytime from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and have some food or have a drink.”
For her part, the ever-smiling Sasser said she was excited about helping to launch a new restaurant and is ready to put her imprimatur on the menu.
“This is the latest chapter in my career, and it’s going to be a good chapter, and long chapter,” Sasser said. “This morning, I went to the farmers market, and there was just so much beautiful produce. But the menu is like going back to my roots.
“I’m classically French-trained, so it’s nice to have French food, but with the agricultural system that we have here and trying to do everything that we can with that. I started doing charcuterie during my time at Twain’s and Hampton + Hudson, and here I’m doing things like pancetta and duck jerky.”
Though the menu will constantly change, Sasser said the sections, ranging from charcuterie, cheese and small plates to sandwiches, mains and desserts, will remain as a basic outline.
“The mains will change every two weeks, if not weekly,” Sasser said. “But we’ll have a fish, and a pasta, and a fowl, and a meat, and a vegetarian dish. And we’ll have crepes for dessert. If you’re doing a bistro, why not have crepes?”
1680 S. Lumpkin St., Athens. 706-521-5041, theexpatathens.com.
More images from a First Look at Expat in Athens