BISBEE — Lookout, Bisbee. There is a new restaurant and cafe that just opened in the former Bisbee Royale and it is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Anyone familiar with the Royale will be hard pressed to believe their eyes with the Art Nouveau renovations by owner Mike Stefaun. Art Nouveau was a late 1800s architectural revolution melding fine arts and interior design using the dynamics of the natural world to create flowing curves and rounded corners.
Upon entering, the incoming sunlight accents the white walls and eyes are drawn to the myriad of stone tiles covering the walls, floors and the granite countertops.
As a self-proclaimed hoarder, Stefaun managed to rescue various types of building materials from his 30 years in construction, and it is thanks to that mindset of “Oh, I might be able to use this later” that he brought the new interior together.
What sets the ambiance off is the recessed floor lighting. The whole scheme takes you out of Southern Arizona and into someplace else.
“There’s nothing like this in Bisbee,” he said.
Stefaun bought the 8,000-square-foot Bisbee Royale two and a half years ago and has been steadily making progress. The Royale was built as a church in 1918, then was sold in 1991 and became the home of the Bisbee Repertoire Theater until 2012 when artist and collector Sloane Bouchever bought the building and turned it into a music and film venture.
Bouchever donated the building to local radio station KBRP, which then sold it to Stefaun.
His first project was to gut the former theater and it stands ready for the next Art Nouveau makeover Stefaun has imagined. Once he is content with the food side of his master plan, he plans to move forward on the theater with longtime friend Michael Page.
Stefaun delivered in aces on his first goal to establish a breakfast spot to fill in a breakfast gap in Old Bisbee. He ended up creating two restaurants in the finished half of the building — the Royale Café featuring crepes, paninis and special coffee blends served up by Bunny Knight; and the Dragon Sports Bar, which offers a wide range of libations and tasty delights cooked up by Chef Gavin Holter.
Knight runs the cafe and produces so many delectable varieties it would take several days to try them all. So far, the blueberry crepes and veggie paninis are favorites of customers. She also brews up the coffee varieties to please any connoisseur.
Stefaun is waiting on two giant sized, historic black and white photos – one of the USS Arizona leaving the port in New York, the other an old photo of the Lyric, which he also owns – to mount on the wall, his finishing touch to the cafe’s environment.
He explained their eggs Benedict took a while as they sought to create the perfect hollandaise sauce and ended up with a resounding success after 10 days of attempts. It has become quite the palate pleaser.
“We’re the only place in Old Bisbee which has breakfast and eggs Benedict,” Stefaun said proudly. “And we have a variety of eggs Benedict plates to choose from.”
He also introduced his father’s recipe for grits, which has been a hit for first-timers tasting the Southern breakfast favorite.
The dining room is called the Dragon Sports Bar and has seven TV screens set up around the tables and bar so no matter where you sit, you can view what’s on without too much neck craning. It is sure to become a hangout for those big games.
The Dragon has a long list of entrees Stefaun and Holter want to offer for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. A variety of omelets, breakfast burritos and traditional egg dishes round out the breakfast menu.
For lunch, try one of the specialty burgers or one of the sandwiches like the old standard BLT, onion rings or the delicious homemade house fries.
Soon he will be adding veggie burgers and other vegan options and charcuterie boards.
So far, the restaurants have been pleasing customers who drop in, some local, some from out of town wondering what was going on in the big blue building.
And for those locals who love preservation, Stefaun left some exposed brick and wood from the old building to accent the café.
And, ladies, you won’t believe the restrooms — light and airy thanks to the large window — with beautiful tile flooring and accented lighting.
While he works to succeed in the restaurant business, he has a crew working on the former Lyric Theater, which will become a hotel with all the amenities of the big fancy hotels with a three-story solarium, workout room, spa and sauna. But, that’s another long-term project.
One thing is for certain, Mike Stefaun is in Bisbee to stay and he will leave his architectural mark on the town to be appreciated for generations to come.