GROTON – Andrew McElroy remembers going by 20 Station Ave. every so often when he was growing up in town.
“A number of people used the building for different reasons,” he said. “There was a chess club on the second floor and so I went to chess club for a number of years. I think I was in Cub Scouts and the scouts met here. My parents looked at it and saw this was a meaningful building. It’s close to the center of town and there’s something special that could be done here. They weren’t quite sure what it would be, but they knew there was something here.”
Now that something is the Groton Station House restaurant. The two-story brick building officially opened its doors back in June after renovating the property over the last five years.
Owned and operated by the McElroy family, the eatery features a bar, cocktail lounge, a dining room on its first floor, a private hall on its second floor and an outdoor patio with a fire pit. The menu features mostly American cuisines, ranging from various styles of steak, fish and select wine choices.
Kathryn Preston, who works at the restaurant, described the meals available to customers as “new American” and “traditional.”
“We have kind-of little bit of everything,” she added. “We really focus on the quality and we add some new twists.”
The Station House has plenty of local history attached to it, first built as a 3,800-square-foot building over 100 years ago as the Odd Fellows Hall. It was then purchased by the Town of Groton in 1940 to serve as a fire station, with an additional 1,200 square feet added later to accommodate more fire trucks and equipment. When the new fire station on Farmers Row was nearing completion, the proposal by the McElroys was approved by town boards.
According to McElroy, the Station House is indeed a family affair. His brother Thomas oversees the business-side of the restaurant while sister Sharon did the graphic design for the restaurant’s logo. Andrew is a ways away from his former job as a lawyer in Manhattan, New York, now working on another small business venture his family is known for.
“Early on, we weren’t really sure what to do with the building,” McElroy said. “We wanted to restore it to its 1915 vintage so there were a lot of decisions regarding the style of the bar and the brick facade. Even the mural of the family farm out front and other paintings depict the town around the same time period. It feels modern while having that older turn-of-the-century feel.”
That feel comes through in many other ways aside from the building’s brick facade and paintings. The servers are dressed to the nines while smooth jazz music plays softly throughout the restaurant. Even the seats are designed for a more relaxed experience instead of the, as he described, “turn-and-burn” chairs other restaurants have. He explained that those types of chair are purposefully uncomfortable to make customers leave faster to make more room for new customers. The chairs at the Station House are wider, have a curved back and have softer cushioning. He further emphasized the importance of having each room in the restaurant flow between each other.
“Each room should feel different,” he explained. “When you first walk in, a lot of that experience should be communal. It’s the bar with the arches and the traditional down lighting and everyone’s dressed up in traditional suspenders and bow-ties. When you’re in the dining area, its much more occasional.”
Another important element to the development of the Station House was, of course, the input of potential customers. McElroy said that he and the family spoke to Groton residents to find out what they were looking for in the restaurant. He also noted that a restaurant consultant the family brought in resisted the idea of the Station House;s warm atmosphere and woodwork furniture, but the community desire for local fine dining spoke louder.
“I think there’s a perception that if you’re outside of the 495 belt, that people don’t have an interest,” he said. “It couldn’t be farther from the truth and this is proof of concept.”
McElroy said business has been good so far, so much so that the customer-base has been transitioning from just Groton residents to others visiting from the likes of Chelmsford, Westford and Littleton. For those still unconvinced, Preston had one more pitch for those looking for a night on the town.
“This exudes quintessential New England charm and we pride ourselves on great food and even better service,” she said.