New Restaurant Flips Martini House

What’s Good for the goose is good for the Gander — or in this case, what was good for The Martini House is good for the Goose & Gander.

When the much-loved Martini House in Saint Helena closed in late fall of 2010, many up-valley locals attempted to drown themselves in the river. The rest just stayed home and drank alone. Rumors began flying in early 2011 that a deal with Fleming’s Steakhouse was in the works. When the deal fell through, Martini House owner Pat Kuleto called his friend Andy Florsheim, a former Chicago restaurateur turned semi-retired Napan.

“It is the coolest space I’ve seen in years,” says Florsheim of the 90-year-old building (once the home of Mr. Walter Martini, an opera singer and successful bootlegger). He describes the downstairs space as “the best bar in California.”

And so it was that Goose & Gander waddled in. At first, Florsheim was calling it a “gastropub.” In New York or London where chefs like April Bloomfield and Fergus Henderson have elevated the act of cooking with lard and entrails to an art and inspire fanatical followings, that word means something. But here in Napa Valley, where brunch is still considered cutting edge, Florsheim decided it is “not the single best word to a lot of people.”

(He’s probably right: We recently heard a bartender at another establishment in town say, “I hear it’s going to be pub grub,” which makes the place sound like it’s going to be a Bennigan’s or something.)

Gastropub was becoming a tired buzzword anyhow. So instead, what the restaurant is going for is, says Florsheim simply, “what a public house should be in Wine Country.” So basically, a cozy space that’s whatever you want it to be — just not the French Laundry.

Florsheim plans to bring the deep woody reassurance of the downstairs to the expansive space upstairs by losing the white tablecloths and introducing composed plates of comfort food.

You could say the new owners have remade the place from the bottom up.