Bar Talk

Wilmington’s Robert Kidd on Reinvigorating a Historic Hotel Bar

How the head bartender built a local following at newly-opened Le Cavalier in Delaware’s iconic Hotel du Pont

Robert Kidd. Photo by Neal Santos.

Newly opened seasonal brasserie Le Cavalier at the Green Room brings a jolt of contemporary energy to the Hotel du Pont, a fixture, since 1913, in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. Le Cavalier (French for “horseman”) honors the deep equestrian tradition in the Brandywine River Valley. In the early 20th century when the Hotel opened, visitors would often arrive by horse. A recent renovation toned down the opulence of the fabled Green Room, and added outdoor patio seating. Head bartender Robert Kidd can be found mixing drinks behind the striking marble bar.

SevenFifty Daily: Opening a restaurant in the middle of the pandemic is gutsy. How are you navigating the state’s limited capacity rule?

Robert Kidd: We had a pretty warm fall season and took advantage of our outdoor space, but there is more indoor seating than we had previously, so we can fill the room up to a decent size. It’s not traditional at all and it doesn’t have that bustling feel, but luckily our bar is big enough so that we can seat two parties on opposite sides of it during service. 

How does that impact cocktail sales?

It’s a different dynamic, specifically for bars, because normally I’m across from guests, having a dialogue with them, asking if they want something sour or boozy. To bridge that gap, the service staff is now selling cocktails, so we spend a good amount of time devoted to beverage training. The past few months we’ve put together study guides, covering different types of liquors, flavor profiles, and drink history. It’s been fun to sit down together and talk about everything before the shift. 

Hotel bars attract business travelers and tourists—groups not turning up these days. Are locals making their way in?

I am so pleased when I see the number of walk-ins we get every night. We reinvigorated this room. It has a better vibe, and you can tell that it’s working when people poke their heads in. Many locals are attached to this luxurious space because their parents or grandparents brought them here. They were nervous it was going to change too much, but they are pleasantly surprised to see that the woodwork, the plaster ceiling, the chandeliers, are all still there. It’s just showcased differently. 

Le Cav Kir. Photo by Neal Santos.

More on this drink, from Kidd:

  •  “The Kir Royale is a nice classic, but for ours we use crème de mûre and add Capitoline Tiber, a bitter that’s like a lighter Campari.”
  • “We top it with a cava that has some bottle aging and use a red wine glass that captures the aromas you don’t get when drinking from a flute.”

 

Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktails from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels (Hardie Grant) and her work has appeared in Architecturaldigest.com, Dwell.com, Penta, Vogue.com, BBC, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.

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