Atlanta Orders In: Lawrenceville’s Local Republic misses synergy of live theater down the street

Local Republic’s Reuben (shown here with a side of fries) is a very good choice. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Local Republic’s Reuben (shown here with a side of fries) is a very good choice. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

If you need proof that the arts and businesses depend on one another, talk to a restaurant owner who’s had the good fortune to have a popular playhouse close by. Talk to Ben Bailey, co-owner of downtown Lawrenceville’s Local Republic and Strange Taco Bar.

In Local Republic’s 11-year history (first in a converted gas station on West Crogan Street, now in a handsomely renovated building across from the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse), it has enjoyed the benefits of being neighbors with the critically acclaimed, fast-growing Aurora Theatre around the corner.

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This takeout order from Local Republic includes: spinach salad with goat cheese, apple, cranberry, sunflower seeds and bacon; and country fried steak with mashed potatoes, onions, mushrooms and demi-glace. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
This takeout order from Local Republic includes: spinach salad with goat cheese, apple, cranberry, sunflower seeds and bacon; and country fried steak with mashed potatoes, onions, mushrooms and demi-glace. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“Aurora was just really a big part of our success,” Bailey said, remembering the good ole days, before the pandemic, when Local Republic was full to the brim with theatergoers enjoying craft beer and burgers before the 8 p.m. curtain at the theater.

“That’s a lot of where we are hurting now,” he said. “We have lost that theater traffic.”

Bailey and his partner, Chris Collin, created Local Republic because they felt Lawrenceville lacked an upscale restaurant on par with the offerings of Decatur and Midtown. In just a few years, they outgrew the original location and poured their energy into the build-out of a stunning multi-level space on North Perry Street (with interiors by ai3), which was unveiled in 2017. Soon afterward, their Strange Taco opened in the vacated gas station, offering a list of 19 creative tacos, from fried clams to braised duck. (Last October, a third concept, LR Burger, opened in an old service station in Monroe.)

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Local Republic’s peanut butter pie with Oreo crust is decadent. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Local Republic’s peanut butter pie with Oreo crust is decadent. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

When the pandemic hit, fast-casual Strange Taco was able to adapt to takeout-only right away. It was just a matter of rolling up its garage door portal, and — voila! — it had the ideal setup for dispensing takeout. Local Republic, on the other hand, was slower to adjust, with the partners discovering “all the inefficiencies of our building to handle takeout,” Bailey said.

Nine months down the road, you’d never know that.

Since the pandemic, Local Republic has built an expansive new patio in front of the restaurant. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Since the pandemic, Local Republic has built an expansive new patio in front of the restaurant. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The front entrance has been transformed into a small patio with a host stand, takeout counter, and a four-seat bar. With the support of the city of Lawrenceville, Local Republic built a roomy, sidewalk-adjacent outdoor space on top of six parking spots. It can seat up to 40, with a newly constructed brick wall separating the street from the seating area.

Of course, cold weather has nipped al fresco dining in the bud.

Meanwhile, both Strange Taco and Local Republic have reinstated dine-in service, and the owners have launched some nifty projects to help generate revenue.

Strange Taco has added a shiny blue taco truck. (Look for it at Truck & Tap in downtown Duluth.) And, Local Republic is staging Sleigh — a holiday pop-up — for the second year at Laundry Events, the restaurant group’s nearby rental space. While the events arm of the business has been decimated by the pandemic, Sleigh will bring a dose of holiday cheer to downtown.

Ben Bailey and Chris Collin created Local Republic because they felt Lawrenceville lacked an upscale restaurant on par with the offerings of Decatur and Midtown. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Ben Bailey and Chris Collin created Local Republic because they felt Lawrenceville lacked an upscale restaurant on par with the offerings of Decatur and Midtown. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“It’s an over-the-top, grotesquely decorated holiday pop-up bar,” Bailey said, with thousands of lights, about 20 Christmas trees, holiday music and, of course, cocktails. Jerad Henry, Local Republic’s beverage director, has mixed up a collection of 12 cocktails, hot drinks and punches that riff on the season.

As it happens, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 23 Aurora is staging its first indoor performances since mid-March. Anthony Rodriguez, the artistic director and co-founder, will appear in a one-man production of “A Christmas Carol,” with a safely distanced audience. For a few nights, like a ghost of Christmas past, downtown Lawrenceville will be a glimmer of what it once was.

Dinner and a show — what a miracle.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

LOCAL REPUBLIC

Menu: elevated new American gastropub

Alcohol: yes; beer, wine and cocktails may be ordered to go

What I ordered: country-fried steak, pastrami Reuben with fries, spinach salad, cold spicy noodles, peanut butter pie. The Reuben was excellent; the steak was homey and comforting; the pie was divine. I had to wait about 15 minutes for my order, which was not a problem, but the server threw in a bonus order of hot fries

Service options: dine-in; takeout; delivery via Uber Eats

Outdoor dining: yes, plus a second-story outdoor space, overlooking the town square

Mask policy: yes, for employees; encouraged for patrons, but not strictly enforced

Address, phone: 139 N. Perry Street, Lawrenceville; 678-205-4782

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Website: localrepublic.com

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