LENOX — One of the downtown business district's longest-established, one-owner restaurants is taking a three-month hiatus for a major makeover.
The shutdown of Firefly starting this Saturday reflects changing preferences by patrons, especially local residents, for a more informal night out rather than a fine-dining experience, said proprietor Laura Shack.
Firefly New American Bistro, serving dinner seven days a week year-round, opened 25 year ago as Roseborough Grill and was last retooled in 2003.
Reopening is planned "no later than the first week of May," Shack said. "We are expanding the bar, I have a very large local clientele that there's not enough room for in the winters."
"It will be busier year-round," she said, "and I think the town needs it. There's a lot of fine dining already."
Shack said the off-season has been a long-standing challenge. The current, nearly snow-free winter has been especially tough, she said, with far fewer weekend visitors to augment the locals, though large parties and catering have helped the bottom line.
The plan is to create a more casual atmosphere, said Shack's longtime chef, Zee Vassos, by expanding "the feel" of the bar to the entire restaurant.
"In the summer, the whole place has a great energy," he pointed out, but in the winter, activity is clustered around the mirrored bar. But walking into the main dining room "is like walking into a different planet."
Shack and Vassos are aiming for cozier seating, rather than the formality of the current dining room "which is empty 70 percent of the year," Shack said. "The bar is the scene."
"It's like 'Cheers' in here half the time," she said. "We have 20-year-old to 75-year-old people who are here every Wednesday together, every Thursday together."
To double lounge seating, a wall will be removed and the mirrored bar will become a wraparound gathering place, augmented by more couches and loungers.
After the renovation, estimated at $200,000, bar seating will double from 13 to 26, while the main dining room will be reduced from 75 to about 40 seats, Shack said.
"We're not making a smaller restaurant, we're just reconfiguring how people can enjoy the space," Vassos added. "I think people are less interested in sitting down at a formal dining-room table. You're going to be able to eat the same quality food at the bar or at a low table sitting on a couch, having a casual conversation."
A separate dining room, often used for special events, will continue to seat 30, and 25 additional spots are available on the porch for al fresco dining in the warm weather months.
"We want to take it into an upscale tavern kind of feel as far as the food goes," Vassos said. "It'll be approachable for everybody. We have locals who come in three, four, five times a week. But we're not turning into a sports bar, deep-fried everything."
"Eclectic American cuisine with a bigger focus on our New England roots," he said, "approachable food for people who want to have everything from nuts and olives to an entree special, done thoughtfully with as much local ingredients as we can, made from scratch, but not quite as formal a menu."
The current 5 to 9 p.m. schedule will be expanded. The popular Wednesday burger nights ($5, except $7.50 in summer) will continue.
The seven-member staff, which doubles in the summer, is expected to return following a three-month layoff. "They will be going on unemployment, which I will be supplementing," Shack said.
The contractor for the project is D & S Builders of Pittsfield.