In the Kitchen

The Local Tavern Keeper

Chef Chris Kleyla discusses tradition and tippling at the Statesman


East Providence native Chris Kleyla decides the flavors and the menu at the Statesman Tavern in Bristol, a modern take on a classic American tavern. Occupying the space once held by Persimmon, the Statesman is owned by Sam Glynn, founder of Warren’s Chomp, and will soon celebrate two years of open doors. The Bay spoke to Chef Chris about Bristol’s cocktail scene, preparing one’s own syrups and bitters, and how to make Rhody-style calamari even better.

I am intrigued by the notion of a “tavern.” It suggests a life beyond food and drink. In what ways is the American tavern related to the British or Irish pub? 
We think about the tavern as a place of refuge with great food and drink. A place to be warm, comfortable, friendly, meet with friends and talk about life. We basically do see the tavern as a “public house.” A place to come often, converse with the servers and the guests around you, and leave feeling like part of our family. It’s also a neighborhood restaurant – built to be part of the community for all to enjoy.

How is Bristol’s appreciation for a good cocktail, in your experience? 
Bristol’s appreciation of a good cocktail is good, and it’s getting better. We might not always have what people are accustomed to seeing at every bar in town, but we really enjoy bringing in different, quality spirits, beer, and wine. Our service team is educated about all of our new products, and they are ready and excited to share their knowledge to help tailor a guest’s experience to appeal to their individual palate while highlighting locally made craft products and complementing our menu. We don’t have Bud Light, but we have a great crisp, clean pilsner we can recommend, and we know you’re gonna love it.

Homemade bitters show that the bar staff is taking great care. What other steps are they taking to make sure every drink is just right, or even better?

Our front-of-house and beverage manager Megan Freitas has been the driving force behind our bar program. We make all of our own syrups. We carry spirits that are great quality, made by people who are as passionate about their products as we are about ours and whom we have good relationships with. Being mindful when making cocktails, using good technique, and using quality ingredients are the keys that make the execution of our cocktail program so great. 

How can you innovate, but remain true to the tavern experience?
We are always looking for new and cool ingredients. Take our calamari, for example. It’s a pretty traditional RI style of cooking it, fried with banana peppers and served with marinara, but we source fantastic fresh whole RI squid and we clean it in house. It’s more expensive for us and more work to get it to the table, but it’s so worth it. The difference is very clear. 

Anything new coming to the Statesman for spring? How does the gathering of fresh ingredients change when spring arrives?
Our menu is very seasonal. We print them in house and change them often. We have developed relationships with fishermen, farmers, and ranchers in the area and get very excited about new products. We will be seeing lots of fresh veggies, raw seafood, and always keep an eye out for our cocktail dinners. Those are a great way for guests to experience lots of the freshest, most beautiful local produce and seafood paired with amazing local spirits.

Statesman Tavern
31 State St, Bristol • 401-396-5115