As she paces the refurbished space of her Albert Street eatery, Laura Viegas points out the heft of the work that had to be done.
Viegas and her team replaced windows, rebuilt the bar, added deep bronze engraved ceiling tiles above the bar and essentially overhauled the whole place.
It was a lofty undertaking that has Viegas anxious to open. She will, she said, by the end of the month.
Cook and Shaker, at 2301 E. Albert St., is located squarely in the Olde Richmond neighborhood, just adjacent to Fishtown and East Kensington.
Viegas, who has worked in the Philadelphia restaurant scene since 2001 — for Farmicia, Bistro 7 and White Dog Café, among others — is clear about the goals of her restaurant.
Mainly, she said, she wants it to reflect the personality of the neighborhood itself — modern, yet proud of its roots, and above all, comfortable.
“I wanted to open something in my own neighborhood,” Viegas told Star earlier this month. “Things are progressing down this way. There’s a mix of old and new in the neighborhood.”
Viegas has lived in Fishtown for ten years, and has always worked in restaurants. She explained that she sort of “fell into” the industry, but came to love it, and wanted to open her own establishment simply because she wanted to be her own boss.
A lifelong vegetarian, she said she wanted to offer interesting vegetable dishes — like the menu’s buffalo-fried Brussels sprouts — as well as what she calls “elevated comfort food.”
Fear not, meat lovers — Cook and Shaker will also offer neighborhood stables like sausage and peppers, plus fun stuff like a grilled cheese of the day.
The even better news is, Viegas said she’s dedicated to keeping things cheap, cozy and accessible. Nothing on the menu will cost more than $15, and the drinks will be diverse.
“I didn’t want to ostracize locals like some establishments that only serve obscure craft beers,” she said. “We’ll have local beers on tap, and craft beers too.”
She’ll also offer unique cocktails, infused-vodkas and seasonal drinks like spiked hot cider.
Cook and Shaker, named for both the food and drink offerings of the place — “A lot of shot-and-beer bars don’t offer food, but when I drink, I want to eat,” Viegas said with a laugh — will offer menu items which include locally-sourced items. The kitchen doesn’t have a walk-in fridge, which means everything will be made fresh daily.Viegas said she believes her restaurant will fill a need of the neighborhood.
“There’s not too many full-service places up here, and there’s a need for it. Memphis Taproom is one of the only places like this around here, and they’re great,” she said.
“Philly didn’t used to be thought of as a food town, but there’s a lot of good offerings lately,” Viegas continued.
The Cook and Shaker space used to be the Chug-A-Mug bar, which Viegas said had a nasty reputation for serving underage kids and spilling drunken, angry patrons into the streets.
“I’d heard of people saying they found bloody handprints on cars outside the bar,” she said. “I think people in the neighborhood could tell by the work we’re doing [to renovate the space] that we aren’t continuing that legacy.”
Viegas said she’s looking forward to simply opening Cook and Shaker and seeing how it’s favored in the neighborhood, but has high hopes for the future of the 55-seat restaurant.
“At some point I think we could expand next door and add pool tables and more seating. I want to do fun things like ‘spelling bee night,’ and the jukebox has karaoke,” she said.
It’s clear Viegas has a vision, one that the neighborhood will surely embrace. After all, she just wants to keep things simple.
“My personality is casual, so I wanted a casual place,” she said. “I just want people to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves.” ••
Once Cook and Shaker opens by the end of October, it will open at 3 p.m. each week day, and serve food until midnight. The bar will be open until 2 a.m. each night. On the weekends, it will open at noon. Visit the restaurant online at cookandshaker.com.