News Column

Nashua's Riverwalk Cafe to open new music venue and cocktail bar

May 21, 2014

By Jim Haddadin, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.

May 21--Growing up in New York, Steve Ruddock came to appreciate the value of live music and a well-made cocktail.

Now, Ruddock, the owner of Nashua'sRiverwalk Cafe and Coffee Roasters, is hoping to bring that same experience to patrons in downtown Nashua.

The 59-year-old is embarking on a major expansion of his business that will create a new music venue in Railroad Square, accompanied by a full-service bar, professional sound system, and staff that can mix a whiskey sour, an Old Fashioned and a range of other classic cocktails.

"We really want to focus on high-quality bourbons and gins -- and not be snobby about it, but sort of just gravitate toward the stuff that we sort of enjoy on our own," Ruddock said. "I think there's going to be an audience for it -- both the music and the craft cocktails. I think the combination of both is going to be nice."

Ruddock bought the cafe at 35 Railroad Square with his wife, Jane, in 2010. Since then, Riverwalk has carved out a niche in downtown Nashua, roasting coffee beans on-site and offering a menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items, accompanied by beer and wine.

The opportunity to expand arose earlier this year, when next-door business Olga's Bridal & Alterations of Nashua, moved to Amherst Street, opening up a roughly 1,100-square-foot unit.

Ruddock took over the lease several weeks ago and began renovating the space, which is now accessible through the back of the cafe. The addition will triple the seating area of Riverwalk, which Ruddock said reaches capacity on some weekends.

It also will create space for new bar rails and a small stage near the glass windows by the sidewalk. Ruddock is working with Z Master Builders, the local design firm that shaped the interior of Napa East Wine Lounge, to complete the architecture and interior design work.

He anticipates the new venue will have seating for about 70 people during concerts, or more if tables are cleared away during standing-room-only shows.

Ruddock isn't the first business owner to try running a small music venue downtown. Studio 99, the 100-seat listening room, was hailed by the arts community for booking live music year-round before it closed its doors last year. But Ruddock hopes to find greater success by merging musical acts with craft cuisine -- a model that has worked elsewhere in New England. He hopes to open the doors of the new business, which will be called Riverwalk Cafe & Music Bar, as early as July.

"We're going to give it a go and see," he said. "People are hungry for that, I think, from what I've been told. ... Jazz fans approach me, country and bluegrass fans approach me. I like all that music, so I think we'll start booking it and seeing how we do."

Ruddock said the stage will be big enough for a five-piece ensemble. Tentative plans call for speakers to be suspended from the ceiling, which will be padded with insulation to keep down noise for residents of the upper floors. Ruddock said he plans to train staff to adjust the levels on a mixing board during live performances.

Riverwalk is already dabbling in live music; the cafe hosts an open mic session every Friday evening, but the performance schedule is set to grow to five nights a week. Ruddock said open mic performances will move to Wednesdays, and the remainder of the week will be dedicated to a different genre each night. He also hopes to book touring bands and more well-known performers on Saturday evenings.

"We want progressive bluegrass, blues, jazz with a little, maybe, a modern kind of element to it ... some jazz with a hip-hop and funk kind of added to it," he said. "I think it'll appeal to a broader audience."

Ruddock anticipates that upgrading Riverwalk's liquor license to serve cocktails will require some modifications to the menu. That might entail adding more entrees or smaller items such as cheese boards and salads.

The kitchen must stay open until 9 p.m. at least five nights a week in order to satisfy the requirements of the state's liquor laws. Ruddock said he envisions performances lasting until 10 or 11. While some other venues in the area stay open later, Ruddock said he's aiming to draw a different crowd than pubs and sports bars.

"My neighbors are very excited about it," he said. "It's just going to bring more traffic up here, but I think it's also going to add an element that you just don't see at night. There's 30-, 40- or 50-somethings (that) want to go out, that want an element that they can feel comfortable in, and that's what we're going to do. It's not going to be swank or anything, but it's going to be comfortable, and we're going to have good music in here as many nights as we can."

Despite the new focus on live music and craft cocktails, serving gourmet coffees and teas will remain Riverwalk's hallmark. Ruddock, a former Amherst attorney, took on the cafe as a second career, learning to roast coffee and developing a menu with his wife, who is a speech pathologist for the Nashua School District.

With the coffee business on the rise, Ruddock said he hopes to generate the same enthusiasm for original music and carefully crafted libations.

"There's a lot of great bartenders and bars and cocktail places in Boston that we're sort of eyeing as sort of trying to create something like that, where you're making an artful drink," he said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached 594-6589 or Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).


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Source: Telegraph (Nashua, NH)

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