PEMBROKE — Inside an old sheep barn on the southern flank of Salt Pond Mountain, a sleek new restaurant has emerged.
The Bad Apple at Doe Creek Farm, paneled in dark wood and lit by crystal chandeliers, has a slightly shadowy, 1920s speakeasy vibe. Yes, “bad apples” are served here in the form of old-fashioned cocktails sweetened with apple syrup from the farm orchard.
“My mom and I went ’round and ’round on the name at first. She said, ‘But all my apples are good apples,’” said Allison Hollopter, who with her mother, Georgia Haverty, owns the restaurant. “I had to keep promoting the idea of a vintage speakeasy atmosphere.”
From 1920 to 1933 during Prohibition, selling alcoholic beverages was illegal in the United States. But despite this, alcoholic drinks were widely available in secret bars built in barns, basements or old warehouses. Organized criminals, including Chicago mobster Al Capone, quickly seized on the opportunity to make rum and supply speakeasies.
While Hollopter doesn’t expect dangerous characters to frequent her upscale restaurant, she does like the contrast between its rustic barn exterior and the classy club interior. A coat-check booth, stained glass window, and cushioned “stay-awhile” chairs are just some of the period niceties.
“A county official who will remain nameless called this place ‘sexy as hell,’” said Hollopter. “Yes, that’s kind of what we want.”
The Bad Apple has private loft seating for small groups. Soft big band or vocal music plays in the background. A fainting couch encourages guests to recline under a photo of Hollopter’s great grandmother Eula Jo baring a shoulder in her Roaring Twenties party dress.
Mikie Bodtke, caterer for Doe Creek’s weddings and former owner of Mikie’s 7th restaurant in Newport, has taken on the role of executive chef, with Ryan Shelton and Robert Terrell as assistant chefs. Together the trio brings about 60 years of food experience to the Bad Apple. Among their offerings, they will serve bourbon-glazed salmon, pork tenderloin in a caramelized apple gastrique and Mikie’s flourless chocolate torte, as well as a few specialties from Bodtke’s Korean background, along with local meats, fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
The restaurant has gone to great lengths to find Virginia distilled spirits for its classic cocktails. They also offer Virginia beers and wines, including award-winning chardonnay, merlot, shiraz and cabernet franc from Haverty’s son Eric’s Altillo Vineyards and Winery near Altavista.
The Bad Apple came about partly because Haverty wanted to beautify the farm, which she took over after her father’s death in 2013, she said. She never liked the weathered sheep barn, Hollopter said, and wanted to improve it or remove it.
“Let’s do something with it,” Hollopter suggested. She’d uttered those words before, seven years earlier when they were considering tearing down the 90-year-old apple packing house. Haverty no longer wanted to pick, pack and ship apples and now runs a pick-your-own operation, so the building was extraneous.
Hollopter devised a plan for hosting weddings in the two-story packing house. They had the upstairs converted to a reception hall by L&L Contractors of Narrows, the same company who recently transformed the rundown sheep barn into the Bad Apple. Hollopter hosts about 20 weddings a year, in every season but apple picking season. She also runs a boarding kennel for dogs in the former migrant workers’ quarters.
Doe Creek Farm, on Doe Creek Road a few miles below Mountain Lake, dates back to 1883. When Haverty first moved to the farm, she came with her parents, Bill and Rosemary Freeman, from Northern Virginia to an operation which had 100 acres of large apple trees and many more acres of field and forest. It was the late 1970s and no one in the family had any experience running an apple orchard, but they learned. Haverty worked in the packing house, pruned trees, and oversaw local retail sales. She eventually left the farm and built a career at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Haverty returned home about eight years ago to help her dad before his death in 2013. Her mother had died a decade earlier. Freeman had ceased shipping apples in 2004, but there were still large trees standing in the orchard, the kind that required tall ladders. Haverty pulled out all those trees and planted several acres of dwarf trees. Along with the fruit, apple jelly, apple syrup, apple butter and apple cider are available at the farm during apple season.
One feature the Bad Apple doesn’t include is a view. Speakeasies were notoriously secretive, windowless places. The Giles County restaurant has another reason for not showcasing its spectacular mountain vistas: the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline. The path of the pipeline passes through the farm and just uphill from the dining area. Although the first pipe has not yet been laid, the steep pasture and foliage have been torn up and have been muddy during rains for the past two years.
“Our plans were started before we learned about the pipeline. They said it wouldn’t affect us, so we aren’t about to give up,” said Hollopter, who can see the pipeline’s route across her yard from the front windows of her hilltop home. “We’re staying. We think we have something special to offer the area.”
Bad Apple celebrated its grand opening Friday and Saturday. Beginning Nov. 21, its regular hours will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Reservations are not required, but are appreciated for groups of five or more (626-2232).