May 12, 2015 11:30AM
By Steven Hoffman
Since it took over the former 16 Mile Taphouse last December and re-opened the restaurant as the Stone Balloon Ale House, High Five Hospitality has become a group of historians. While the two previous restaurants on the site seemed to depart from the legacy of the famed music venue, the Stone Balloon Ale House is a comfortable, kick-back-and-relax salute to Newark lore. With a superb menu and a new look, the restaurant has become one of the most talked-about establishments on the Delaware culinary and social scene. Newark Life recently received a tour of the place with General Manager Philip DiFebo.
Q: There is an entire contingent of people who are a part of your demographic. These are people who graduated from the University of Delaware prior to 2005, when the original Stone Balloon was razed. When they come back to their alma mater, they want to have some reminders of what their college years were like attending shows here, and this restaurant takes them back.
DiFebo: It takes them back, yes, but we're not the same Balloon that was here in 2005, nor are we the same Balloon that was here in 1976. You're here to talk about it, not re-live it. You re-live it in your head, so to come here with a group of ten, maybe there's a scenario where you're here with your father, who graduated from the University in the 1970s, and you graduated from here in 2000. The Stone Balloon Ale House gives you the opportunity to have the same conversation in the same exact place you both drank beer and saw bands years before. That's what this space is meant to be – a gathering place for those memories, sprinkled in with a great craft beer selection, an affordable menu and a sense of fun.
Q: Provide a time line that led to the Stone Balloon Ale House opening earlier this year.
DiFebo: We, High Five Hospitality, bought this space last August and operated it as 16 Mile Taphouse until Dec. 1, and then we changed the name and the concept. There was some confusion, however, because many people believe that there's only been one owner who just re-did the restaurant again and again. That's certainly not been the case. The original Stone Balloon was as iconic as it comes. It was a part of Newark and Delaware lore. People came here from all over, because it was an event destination. We're here to honor its past and also give the name and the brand an outstanding future.
Q: The decor of the Stone Balloon Ale House is a tastefully designed homage of what came here before it. Included in the decor are a group of guitars on the stairway leading to the second floor of the restaurant. Listed on them are the names Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, Meatloaf and Dave Matthews, and the dates they played at the Stone Balloon. Talk about their significance.
DiFebo: We could have put anyone we wanted to on these walls. We chose these performers because they will always be around. Their music is as timeless as it gets. Everyone always uses the "sticky floor" mantra when they describe the old Stone Balloon, but people who remember the core of the Balloon when it was a rock venue, this is a visual reminder. This isn't about building a restaurant. It's about building a home.
Q: What do you mean by the word, "Home?"
DiFebo: College is a very important part of people's lives. It's there that we discover who we are. It forms your core values. It turns us into an adults. People remember that the Stone Ballon was once a home for them when they were in college, so to have a place now where they can come as a family and talk about that experience, is pretty remarkable.
Q: Talk about the unique menus that you've created here. They're cloth-bound and made with wood.
DiFebo: Everybody can have a paper menu, but our menus take you on a journey. The Stone Balloon was around for a very long period of time, and our menu tells that story. It also lists our great menu, from appetizers to sandwiches to entrees, from Short Rib Stroganoff to Southern Shrimp. It's "comfort food playfully re-imagined," as our tag line says. We have all natural sodas, and not out of soda guns, but fresh out of bottles. We carry the beers of all six Delaware breweries at all times: Twin Lakes, Dogfish, Third Wave, 16 Mile, Fordham Dominion and Mispillion River Brewing.
Q: For those people in Newark who may have heard about the change but not visited yet, what do you want them to know about what awaits them at the Stone Balloon Ale House?
DiFebo: I would like them to know that it's a place to come where you can be yourself. We're kind of like your living room, but just a little fancier.