It’s a boy meets girl story: Kevin Ames grew up in Newport, Michelle Arsenault in Portsmouth. When Ames moved a couple of towns north, he started cooking for Scampi’s restaurant, where Arsenault was general manager. They hit it off, they started a relationship – and they even bought the establishment from the former owners. Together, they’ve turned the building into Localz Kitchen & Cocktails, a two-story hangout with spectacular views of both the bay and Island Park Cove.
“Scampi’s did a great job,” says Ames. But the former restaurant was an upscale joint, and the couple wanted to establish something populist, family-friendly, and geared toward, well, locals. “We thought, ‘Let’s just be fun.’ You can come here dressed in a tux, or you can come in here in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. That’s what it’s all about – let’s make things affordable. And you can’t find it unless you know it’s here.”
The menu appeals to a range of tastes: You can enjoy a romantic dinner with pan-seared swordfish, shrimp scampi, and a few inventive cocktails. Or you can knock back a ‘Gansett and devour a gorgonzola burger with a side of Island Park nachos and tater tots. The couple’s easygoing approach has been full of surprises; Ames reluctantly added country fried chicken to the menu, and the platters have become one of their biggest sellers. Localz also hosts Why Not Wednesday specials – a midweek treat for people who can’t wait for Friday – and children always eat free on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The most significant change has been the building itself, which was fully renovated at the end of last year. The old decor had a 1970s sensibility, while the current dining room is full of reclaimed wood and chalkboards. An entire wall is coated in photographs of regular customers, and knickknacks run the gamut of attractive, oceanic, and goofy. Before summer, Localz will also have a new deck, five functional fire pits, and kites used for shade. The upstairs bar, which is used solely for Localz’s titular cocktails in the warmer months, overlooks the cove, where Portsmouth started shooting off Independence Day fireworks last July.
“We sat upstairs last Sunday to watch the games,” says Arsenault, gesturing at the view. “Looking out the windows, we were like, ‘Why don’t we live here? We should just make this [second floor into] an apartment. Who doesn’t want to wake up to this?’”