At this speak-easy-style bar, you don’t need a password, but you do need to know where to go. In an alleyway in downtown Starkville, a single lantern “lights the way for those who know.” Enter and you’ll find what lies beneath Restaurant Tyler: a dimly-lit basement with a Southern gothic vibe. There are precisely 30 seats, and no more than 30 people are allowed in. Even though word-of-mouth is the only form of advertisement, customers are often turned away to keep the environment intimate and comfortable, just as owners Ty Thames and Brian Kelley envisioned.
“Brian and I have always enjoyed traveling. We have a condo in New Orleans,” said Thames. “We were inspired by that scene and the craft cocktail movement to open The Guest Room. We wanted Restaurant Tyler to have its own bar, but it had to resemble the food. So, with the farm-to-table movement and craft cocktail movement, everything went to parallel to that.”
In a college town filled with standing-room-only bars and neon-colored shots, The Guest Room is catering to the more mature post-grad crowd. The space’s designer, Amanda Shafer, played off the exposed brick and natural wood with dark tones and rustic decor. The Guest Room’s pre-prohibition ambience is at-once timeless and squarely on-trend. On the walls, you will find a large vintage mirror and framed portraits. The largest face staring back is the infamous Machine Gun Kelly, who attended Mississippi State University for one semester, according to Thames. Rumor has it that Kelly’s highest grade was a C in Hygiene. Overhead hang mounted animals, two small bobcats perched on a piece of wood and a boar’s head. The focal point of the room is the copper-topped bar, surrounded by tufted bar stools and cozy booths.
Bringing Thames’ and Kelley’s vision to life was more of an undertaking than they had hoped. The basement was originally a dirt floor and ceilings so short that you could not stand up straight. Contractor after contractor quit during the renovation until one called in the local high school football team for a unique summer workout regimen.
The food is upscale Southern fare with an emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients, much like its sister restaurant, Restaurant Tyler. On the seasonal menu, you will find new takes on classics, like cold-smoked pork chops, risotto with Vardaman sweet potato gnocchi and fried catfish with muscadine butter sauce and dill pickle pesto. The drinks feature fresh juices, seasonal bitters and quirky names like the Game of Thorns, Bob from Carskadon, named for a local sports writer, and Summer in Vegas, which one can only presume refers to the magical months when school is out and StarkVegas moves at a slower pace.
Story by Carmen Cristo // Photos by Blake McCollum Photography