The former Opera House Internet Café on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor. The building is set to be demolished and a new owner has begun working with the Design Review Board on plans for a new building. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

‘Opera House’ demo set

BAR HARBOR — The building at 27 Cottage St., vacant since 2014 when the Opera House Internet Café closed its doors, is set to be demolished soon.

“The building is what is called a ‘pile’ in architecture, meaning old and tired but having a distinctive character,” owners Bruce and April Carlson told the Islander in an email. “We offered it for sale, but no one wanted to restore the old building with no foundation, and so it is under contract to a new owner who plans to erect a new building.”

That new owner, Danny Shein, and representative Randy Sinclair of Sinclair Builders brought initial plans for a one-story, 3,300-square-foot retail building to the town’s Design Review Board for discussion Aug. 11.

The Carlsons purchased the building, then a restaurant called Il Giardino, in 1980 from Lolly and Andy Anderson. It already had been a beloved part of the town’s nightlife for many years.

“We operated as a restaurant, and at 9 p.m., it changed into a really get-down rock and roll club with live bands every night. It was crowded and nasty but a lot of fun,” the Carlsons said.

A few years later, they were ready for a change of pace. “We remodeled the building with antique chairs and tables and called it The Opera House.” The fine dining restaurant was an institution for 20 years, receiving five-star reviews from critics in Portland and elsewhere.

In 2006, the Carlsons reinvented the place again, this time as an internet café that would fill a need and could operate with a much smaller staff.

Current coffee shop operators Matt Hochman of the Trailhead and Tim Rich of the Independent both worked for the Carlsons at the Opera House. Hochman and his wife, Angel, managed and eventually bought the business. From 2012-2014, the Hochmans operated both the Opera House and the Trailhead.

“I miss the eclectic grandmother’s house vibe,” Hochman said. “The furniture and art was so unique.”

The old café was a gathering place for many, Rich said. “In coffee shops in general, the tensions of the world kind of go away and you can communicate on a different level. The Opera House really was where my community was based.

“For years, the Carlsons kept notebooks on every table. People would write notes and stick them in the drawers of the dressers,” he said.

The Opera House was shuttered in 2014 because Wi-Fi was available at more businesses, everyone carried their own laptops and connected devices, and the old building continued to have issues.

A “last piece of business” in the Opera House building, the Carlsons said, is a pre-demolition sale planned for Saturday, Oct. 8, at 8 a.m. “Thirty years of accumulated hardware, fixtures and equipment will be sold for a song, the last one to be heard in this lovable old building.”


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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