North Broad Street’s latest destination was 25 years of jazz and restaurant experience in the making.
It’s been twenty five years since the Bynum brothers opened their first jazz club and restaurant — Zanzibar Blue. In 1990, it was the place to be.
On Thursday night, jazz lovers and Bynum loyalists gathered to celebrate the opening of Robert and Benjamin’s latest endeavor, SOUTH, and to commemorate their careers with a mayoral citation presented by Michael Nutter.
By the time Mayor Nutter arrived, the celebration was in full swing. Robert worked the room and Benjamin worked the kitchen, as it’s been for the pair since the beginning.
SOUTH is barely two weeks old but already stands out as the crown jewel of their repertoire. The space at 600 N. Broad St. was originally a Stephen Starr seafood house, Route 6 — lots of gray and distressed wood — like a cold New England beach.
The Bynums incorporated much of the original character while creating the welcoming and exciting atmosphere that had been lacking. They added some earthy elements — an artful bottle tree, warm leathers, and a new layout — splitting up the dining room to include a state-of-the-art jazz parlor and supper club seating that ensures there’s not a bad seat in the house.
“We’re excited about this location at SOUTH because it gives us the opportunity to really present our music and our food in the same environment while being able to do them in separate rooms,” Robert said. “At the original Zanzibar Blue, we were able to do that but it was much smaller. At the second Zanzibar Blue on Broad and Walnut, it was all in one room and that became a challenge.”
It was really important to the Bynums that the sound be good. They added some acoustic finishings and put in carpeting for the sake of sound quality.
“It was also important to us that every seat face the stage,” Robert said. “We really tried to get away from the situation where people have their backs to the stage. We think it tends to take away from the focus on the music and the interest in the music.”
But SOUTH is more than just the music. It’s a full restaurant, bar and lounge as well. Chef Paul Martin has worked his way through the city’s ranks, opening Catahoula back in 2010, then moving into the Starr group for about five years before joining the Bynums in January.
Originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, “the heart of Cajun country,” he says, Martin brings a special knowledge of the South to the kitchen.
The South is represented best, in Robert Bynum’s opinion, by the wreckfish, a whitefish the grouper family. It’s served with a southern succotash and a New Orleans-style crawfish saffron butter.
The bar options are as encompassing as they come — including more than 60 bourbons, a draft cocktail selection made exclusively with Tito’s Vodka, and small-batch firkins.
“We really have a lot of fun with the beverage program,” general manager Harrison Hayman said. “We’re not gonna be a craft cocktail establishment where we turn our nose up if you want a vodka and tonic or a cosmo. We’ll make that, but if you’re interested in the cocktail experience, we have that as well.”
In addition to SOUTH, the Bynums own four other restaurants — Warm Daddy’s on Columbus Boulevard; Paris Bistro and a fast-casual concept called Green Soul in Chestnut Hill; and Relish in West Oak Lane.
Over the years, the Bynums have opened more than a dozen places, each with its own degree of success. That’s what makes their story more than just their latest locale with its state-of-the-art jazz parlor, new southern cuisine, and 60-plus bourbons behind the bar.
It’s about the perseverance it takes to succeed in this business — and to keep trying when things don’t work out.
“You’ve got to keep pushing, you’ve got to like what you do … gotta be willing to make the sacrifices,” Robert Bynum said. “I think the restaurant business is really difficult, and most people are beginning to realize that now.”