A new watering hole has quietly opened on the downtown mall. The Livery Stable, founded by John McIlhenny and his cousin Ian Dugger, has been dishing out pub food and drinks since July 18.
The quiet opening matches the modest ambitions of The Livery Stable’s founders. With The Livery Stable, McIlhenny and Dugger are not seeking to change the world. Their aim is simply to create a warm and inviting pub where people can come for a bite and a drink. “Good food and good value,” says McIlhenny.
With ambitions these modest, why open a pub at all? One word: family. The property where The Livery Stable sits, at the far west end of the Downtown Mall, has been in the family since the 1840s. In speaking with McIlhenny, it is impossible not to be moved by the pride he and his cousin take in their family history – a family that has been part of Charlottesville for nearly 200 years.
In the 1800s, the property was used as a feed lot and livery stable, owned by McIlhenny’s great great great grandfather, Dr. Thomas Cox. In the mid 1900s, it was inherited by McIlhenny’s and Dugger’s grandfather, Dr. Murray Cox Brown, who built a grocery market on the property, and leased it to A&P for forty years. After Brown died in 1982, the property passed to their grandmother, Clarissa Brown, who has owned it ever since. She transformed the space into new retail space, whose tenants have included Artful Lodger, among others.
Several years ago, McIlhenny suggested expanding the commercial space at the property by renovating the basement, which, until then, was not being used. Dugger had a different idea. He proposed using the basement as a pub in tribute to their family and the property’s heritage, particular its early equestrian uses.
The signature drink, which already has a following, is the Headless Horseman, made of vodka and ginger beer – The Livery Stable’s version of a Moscow Mule. Meanwhile, the menu is divided into Pony Bites (small plates), Horse Bites (larger plates), and Grazing (salads). Almost every item costs less than $10.
McIlhenny’s personal favorite are the Crazy Legs, which are jerk-seasoned roasted pork shanks. He’s also fond of the Out to Pasture sliders – stuffed with pot roast, provolone cheese, and gravy. Chef Jimmy Goodwin runs the kitchen, coming to The Livery Stable from Wintergreen.
As for the atmosphere, the aim is a comfortable, welcoming setting where people can relax for a few hours. With the subterranean location and exposed concrete walls, guests certainly feel like they are in a basement pub. To encourage lingering, there are several large-screen HDTVs for sports viewing. And, McIlhenny plans regular activities such as a pub quiz. Open from 5pm to 2 am every day, The Livery Stable is already popular among the late night crowd, particularly those in the food industry.
As word spreads, McIlhenny looks forward to serving others in the Charlottesville community — a community which he credits for helping The Livery Stable become a reality. “We have been overwhelmed by how helpful the City of Charlottesville has been,” says McIlhenny. “They have just been wonderful.”