Most restaurants and bars do everything they can to bring attention and ultimately guests to their establishment. The 1836 Club is without a doubt not an average restaurant. As a private club they intentionally fly under the radar, offering privacy and exclusivity as a perk.
Despite the fairly stable frontward appearance, behind the doors everything has changed in those two years from the staff to the clientele. Yes, they still cater to Little Rock’s elite political leaders, but increasingly it is the business minded members making up the daily sign ins.
That has brought a huge change in philosophy and ultimately a change in kitchen philosophy led by new executive chef Philip Immekus. Where the original concept of 1836 focused on the southern experience that the established politicians of the area love, Immekus brings a wide variety of flavors appealing to the well traveled business guest.
“I have spent time all over, but really built my skills in New Orleans and Brooklyn,” Immekus says. “the melting pot of flavors and styles from those cities heavily influence the way I like to cook.”
1836’s spring menu is a reflection of that. Everything is layered with a pop of flavor and each dish brings something new from various key travel points across the US. You can see it in dishes like the charbroiled oysters, offered either NYC or NOLA style. You have strong southern flavors like Breaded duck wings mixed with east coast flavors like lobster mac and cheese, and the west coast vibe to the blacken shrimp tacos.
There is even a touch of Caribbean with dishes like the Jerk Reuben sandwich. He is also working in a strong mix of flavors with the new charcuterie boards, bringing various meats, cheeses, and pickled fruits and vegetables.
“Our guests here travel frequently. We want to be a place where they can come when they are home to still get the diversity of flavors they are looking for,” Immekus says. “For an even wider reach we are running frequent around the world style dinners where we bring in various different international dishes paired with wine.”
The cocktail menu reflects the change as well. Where you once found a smattering of smokey, strong, dark cocktails, the change is now bright and full of life, often containing components raised in the patio garden. Not only is there a change in the business nature of the club, but also a change in the demographics feature a much more diverse all around crowd lately. It is a welcome change to frequently walk in and see as many women as men, and a mix of different faces of different ages all around.
Of course, the club’s main service is still reserved for members and guests (although it usually does not take long to find a friend with a membership). However it is consistently one of the best places to host an event. They cater frequently, and are open exclusively for catering and private events on the weekends. It is a gorgeous old house, and once of the nicest event venues in the downtown area.
The changes at 1836 Club, while quiet, are great for Little Rock. It is a great example of adapting to meet an ever changing clientele. Even though it is membership driven, it is still a surprisingly accessible place that is worth checking out sometime.