It came as a shock to long-time patrons of the Burgundy Room a couple of weeks ago when Old Venice Pizza Co. (OVPC) owner Jim Bulian announced that he would be replacing the 18-year-old Oxford staple that sits above his pizzeria with a new bar, reminiscent of a ski lodge, called The Summit Lodge Bar.
“I didn’t think there was going to be such an uproar about it,” said Bulian. “But if we were going to improve the Burgundy Room, there wasn’t much we could do to make it look different. We just needed some kind of change. So we decided to start from scratch and create something new with a new name.”
Bulian said that in creating the look of the new bar, he pulled inspiration from his experiences going to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. “There will be a wall of real Aspen trees, faux taxidermy, faux bearskin rug and faux fireplace,” he said. “It’s going to be like a high-end ski lodge that you’d find in Aspen.”
Together with his business partner David Buescher and designer Beth McKey, Bulian said he’s excited to watch the transformation of the Burgundy Room take place. “We had parts of the old place that always bothered me that are finally getting fixed; all of those things are being corrected in the remodel, plus a revamped entryway and bathrooms.”
“We’re going to expand our whiskey offering big time, so it will be like a whiskey bar,” said Bulian. “When it was Burgundy Room, it opened up as a cigar martini bar, and then they outlawed smoking inside bars and restaurants, which diminished us by half, and then martinis came and went. We became just the Burgundy Room and had no identity.”
Along with its expanded whiskey menu, The Summit Lodge Bar will offer a “shotski,” according to Bulian, that features a snow ski with four holes that hold shot glasses. “Four people have to do the shotski at the same time,” said Bulian. “I think people will love it.”
“The Horn of Enchantment, which was previously part of the Burgundy Room, will return,” said Bulian. “It’s a ram’s horn that we’ll fill with a secret mix of 10 different spirits that you shoot out of the horn.”
The new bar will also carry on some of the Burgundy Room’s former specials such as Martini Tuesdays, Whiskey Wednesdays and Ladies Night on Thursdays. “I think we’ll also do a $10 bottomless mimosa and bloody Mary on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Bulian.
For those who are worried about losing the vibe of Burgundy Room, Bulian said, “We are keeping everything that worked about Burgundy Room and just adding to it and changing the décor. When you have a ski lodge, it’s kind of a chill, lounge thing, hanging by the fireplace with a drink and having a conversation with friends.”
Returning to His Roots
Bulian opened OVPC after working in the music business during his 20s and deciding that he needed something else to fall back on. At 28, he worked at Oxford’s Lafayette’s for a year, developing pizza and pasta recipes. “When I was ready, I came and made an offer to purchase Harvest Cafe, and they accepted,” he said. “By default, I could run a restaurant; my twin brother and I were bussing tables at five years old; all the diners thought it was so cute.”
Most Oxonians don’t know just how far back Bulian’s Oxford pizza roots go. “My parents opened Dino’s on the Square in 1972,” he said. “They sold it to my aunt and uncle in 1975 and they ran it for 20 years, eventually moving it to Oxford’s west side. We then occupied the Square space as Victor’s.”
Ten years after opening OVPC, Bulian felt his artistic side pulling him back, leading him to start painting and pursuing screenwriting. Many of the paintings that now hang in OVPC were created by Bulian and depict the very people you see bringing over your pizza or pouring your drinks. And, if you’ve ever pulled up a seat at the bar and tried a glass of organic Italian Artist’s Vodka, it, too, was created by Bulian, with the goal being to sponsor and endorse fellow artists with each bottle sold.
The Summit Lodge Bar is scheduled to open in mid-August. To follow along with the construction progress, visit the bar’s Facebook page at facebook.com/thesummitlodgebar.
Liz Barrett Foster is the EatingOxford editor for HottyToddy.com, an award-winning business journalist and author of the recently published Pizza: A Slice of American History. Liz ran the popular restaurant information site EatingOxford.com from 2009 to 2015. Liz can be reached at email@example.com.