It wasn’t long after Gusanos closed their doors in Little Rock’s River Market that a new concept was announced for the location. Now The Library Kitchen + Lounge is opening today bringing a very different approach to one of the River Market’s premier storefronts.
Stepping inside, the space looks nothing like the old Gusanos. The bar is larger and moved to the center of the restaurant. It is flanked by large booths and plenty of smaller tables around. In the front, the old windows are replaced with garage-style doors that will open up in the spring and fall and a more lounge-style seating option that will be first come first serve. The entire place is lightened up considerably, which makes it feel much larger, and has strong accents of orange throughout the restaurant.
The Library comes from partner Rob Byford who has spent his entire life growing up in and around restaurants. He is most known for his long stretch helping start Slim Chickens, but it might be his earliest restaurant memories that influenced the Library the most.
“My dad had a bar on Beale street while I was growing up. I remember sitting in the bar as a young kid watching bands play and people come in,” Byford says. “What I wanted to create here in the Library was that Beale street like experience for Little Rock. We have a strong influence of southern and delta foods and we will have a great bar serving out drinks. But mostly we are not afraid to get loud and have a lot of fun with some of the bands we want to book on the stage.”
The entertainment factor is certainly in play. At a pre-open New Year’s Eve party the Library brought in Barrett Baber for a taste of what concerts at the Library would look like. It was a great time with a very energetic atmosphere.
On the food side the Library is no slouch either. They brought in industry vet Gwen Jones to help with the opening menu and build a rock star team with many familiar faces from kitchens around the city. The menu leans heavily into southern comfort food and utilizes their massive smoker in the back for an excellent bbq lineup.
The menu is a good mix of sandwiches, burgers, charcuterie boards, and a big appetizer section along with a meat and three sides option that lets you pick from smoked chicken, pork, or ribs and a solid line up of southern influenced sides. The fried pork chop sandwich will also be an instant winner that brings a southern favorite and throws it on a bun. Finally, on the appetizer menu, the pimento cheese stuffed hush puppies seem to be a big hit so far in the menu previews we’ve had.
The Library will also start rotating dinner specials next month that will have land, air, and sea options for a larger meal. Expect things like flat-iron steak, trout, and chicken and waffles to populate that section of the menu. They will also roll out brunch around that time which should be a good option for the area.
To start they plan to be closed on Mondays except for special events, like next week’s national championship game. Other than that they will be open from 11-midnight Sunday & Tuesday-Thursday, then stay open until 2am on Friday and Saturday. They also will eventually make full use of the new River Market Entertainment District with a sidewalk facing service window that will allow people to purchase drinks from the street during entertainment district hours and food at any time.