Considering the varied history of the property at the corners of Spring and 5th Streets in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C., it seems unlikely it would have morphed into an inviting, art-filled restaurant featuring a fresh, seasonally inspired menu with a distinctive Southern flair.
That’s exactly what has transpired, however.
The lot on which Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar is now situated was once the garden and tennis courts for an adjacent home owned by R.J. Reynolds, the famous tobacco magnate. Then in 1920 Agnew Bahnson, who developed a humidifier to reduce cotton dust in textile mills and industrial-sized air conditioners, built a stately, two-storied stucco home in the English Country House style that was part of a long row of grand homes known as Millionaire’s Row. In the late 1960s the Bahnson family gave the house to the Forsyth County Library, which used it as administrative offices. In 2001 the National Park Service listed the house on the National Register of Historic Places.
The house’s current incarnation as Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar was the brainchild of event planner Lynette Matthews-Murphy. She purchased the site in 2010 with her husband, Lynn Murphy, and opened for business in 2012. Sensitive to the house’s historic stature, she preserved and repurposed the space to create a destination for dining, hospitality and special events.
Many original features remain, including white oak floors (now ebonized), plaster walls, fireplaces and French doors. Matthews-Murphy filled in the space once occupied by the porte cochere to create ADA-compliant restrooms. The old laundry in the basement became a prep kitchen for storage and freezers.
The Main Dining Room downstairs is also the original home’s dining room. The parlor became the Magnolia Room, overlooking the front patio and lawn. Original leaded windows line the Sun Porch. The Library Bar has 12-foot ceilings with dentil moldings. The commercial kitchen was converted from the kitchen and butler’s pantry. Upstairs, former bedrooms serve as meeting, event and dining spaces.
The décor is khaki and black with accents of spring green, and there are elements of caning and bamboo. Matthews-Murphy commissioned much of the art from local artisans. Overall the look, she said, is “unfussy Southern elegance. British Colonial island style, but very classic. Serene and leisurely, yet popping with energy.”
Executive chef Timothy Grandinetti, who was featured on Food Network’s Chopped Grill Masters, “fell in love with the pig when he came South,” Matthews-Murphy said. Consequently, pork makes a regular appearance of the menu, often prepared with his signature Cheerwine barbecue sauce. Grandinetti creates flavor bombs of depth and complexity, and produces unexpected combinations, such as chargrilled sirloin steak with a blue cheese beignet. He also conducts cooking classes.
And then there’s, of all things, the house ghost.
“Librarians who used to work here swear they saw Mrs. Bahnson, and told us about episodes of crazy swooshes of wind and doors slamming,” Matthews-Murphy said. “It’s considered to be a haunted house, and we, too, have sensed something very positive.”
Hearty regional specialties, a lovingly restored historic setting and maybe even a ghost. Surely an experience that’s worth the trip.
When you go
Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen and Bar is located at 450 N. Spring St., Winston-Salem, N.C. 27101. Phone is 336.293.4797. Check the website for more information.
Click here for other articles by Mary Gilbert. You also can read her travel stories on her blog, The Roads Traveled, at theroadstraveled.com.