Last year was devastating for the restaurant industry due to the pandemic—and law-abiding Coachella Valley restaurants have remained closed for everything but takeout and delivery thus far in 2021.
However, soon after restaurants are allowed to welcome in-person outdoor dining again, a shuttered Palm Springs spot will be reborn: The old Draughtsman location, at 1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive, will reopen as 1501 Uptown Gastropub. It’s a project that has two reputable local names behind it: Chad Gardner and Willie Rhine.
Draughtsman had been owned and operated by the neighboring Arrive Hotel. Last May, it became one of COVID-19’s earliest restaurant victims. Evzin briefly operated a weekend popup out of the space before owner John Tsoutis left the Coachella Valley for Seal Beach, but it was sitting vacant when Chad Gardner was alerted to its availability in October.
Gardner has won a lot of plaudits with 533 Viet Fusion and Roly China Fusion. Trained in French cuisine, Gardner has taken traditional concepts and incorporated his own unique twists. 533 Viet Fusion is high on my list of recommendations; if you haven’t been, you must try the Vietnamese crepe.
The new gastropub concept had previously caught Gardner’s imagination.
“My mother was a chef in more casual restaurants,” he says. “This gives me an opportunity to do some of the dishes I was familiar with growing up, as well as fill a nice niche that Palm Springs didn’t have.”
Gardner’s French background is noticeable in his Asian concepts, but he elaborates: “The opportunity to do some more Western-based cuisine was definitely attractive. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.”
The other “host,” as the 1501 Uptown Gastropub website puts it, is Willie Rhine. He and Gardner have collaborated on various projects over the years.
“When I saw that the space became available, the first person I called was Willie,” Gardner says. “Things moved pretty quickly from there.”
Rhine has won accolades with Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, owned by Rhine and John Paschal. While Gardner will manage the kitchen, and Rhine the hospitality, Rhine is also bringing his Scottish heritage (and unmistakable accent) to the food mix.
They’ve maintained the basic Draughtsman layout, including the fire station-style doors on each side that afford the interior a plein air feel.
“We both fell in love with the space,” Rhine says. “In these difficult times, the space is almost entirely outdoor dining.”
The patio seats 150, even under social-distance guidelines, and they are allowed to seat people up to 10 feet inside the restaurant with the doors fully open under outdoor-dining rules. Rhine also welcomes the flexibility of having three patio areas.
“Whether it’s intimate dinner for four, a bachelorette party, or a buyout, we’re able to divide the space pretty easily,” he says.
Structurally, they didn’t have to make very many changes. Gardner has upgraded the kitchen to meet the anticipated volume of business, and Rhine has added several personal touches and given the interior a facelift.
“Willie likes to shop,” Gardner says with a laugh. “We’ve gotten all-new furniture, making it look more like a restaurant that has a cool bar than a bar that serves food. It will look familiar, but it will also look fresh, vibrant and Palm Springs.”
I’d always had mixed feelings about Draughtsman. The building—a former Pizza Hut that was dramatically revamped by famed architect Chris Pardo—is most impressive. The craft-beer geek in me loved their beer program, but the food failed to deliver.
Gardner’s menu represents a significant upgrade; he refers to it as “upscale pub cuisine and European comfort food.” You’ll find pub favorites, as well as items you’d find in a French bistro/brasserie.
“I’m one of those chefs who likes to color outside the lines,” Gardner says.
His chosen highlights include the mahi mahi with a sherry-tarragon cream sauce; the braised Kobe short rib with a zinfandel demiglace; and a sour-cherry balsamic pork. However, top and center is “Willie’s shepherd’s pie.”
“It’s a nice, savory, freeform shepherd’s pie,” Gardner says. “With slow-braised beef tenderloin, sherry and aged cheddar, it’s going to be a great hit, I think.”
There’s more casual, affordable fare, too, with an extensive list of small plates, salads, sandwiches and burgers, as well brunch on weekends.
The bar maintains the 24 tap handles from Draughtsman. Gardner anticipates variety and originality with some rotation, although with less-frequent changes than Draughtsman made. Cocktails will feature classics and imaginative twists. One notable highlight will be the gin cocktail menu.
“It’s a niche we’ve settled on,” Gardner says, “and gins are common in British pubs.”
I started bartending at the age of 17 in England—and I quickly learned that if I wanted to drink for free, I drank gin and tonic. That resounded with Rhine: “My first cocktails were gin and tonics at The George Hotel in Edinburgh. It was a rite of passage, of sorts.”
1501 Uptown Gastropub had originally been slated to open in early January. They’d already held a job fair prior to the regional stay-at-home order that closed down outdoor dining.
“As soon as the governor allows outdoor dining, we’ll open our existing restaurants, and immediately put out another call for staff,” Rhine says. “We plan to open 1501 two or three weeks after that.”
I’m really looking forward to 1501 Uptown Gastropub. It fills a niche in Palm Springs, and there are a number of eye-catching menu items, especially the aforementioned shepherd’s pie. I’ve missed the craft-beer concept that Draughtsman had—and am happy the space is coming back to life, despite these troubled times.
For more information, visit www.1501uptown.com.