Having moseyed the ten-minute walk from Downtown Bentonville Square to The Forge, I seated myself at the bar. I’m parched. Noticing my heavy breathing, the bartender worked quickly to hydrate me with a Molly Malone. Rum, spiced simple syrup, lemon, pear juice & rosemary came together in lip-puckering refreshment. Delighted to see familiar faces working there, I chatted with them about the excitement (and growing pains) of those pesky first few opening weeks. It had been challenging, but they were hitting an obvious stride. Their enthusiasm was palpable.
A man with a sun-bleached beard, jeans and t-shirt plopped down on a stool to my left. Likely the first moment of the day that his well-worn work boots disengaged from the ground, he hollered with a relaxed drawl, “Don’t worry about me! I’m here all the time…” to the server who was hustling to get him a menu.
I had to smile to myself. This is what pub life is all about.
I’m told right away: the locals who opened The Forge have actually called 407 SW A Street “home” for years. While nurturing Bentonville Ornamental Iron Inc. into a thriving business, the manufacturing load simply outgrew the building. With production relocated to Gravette, owners Lise Wentz and Frank Wallace set to creating something in their beloved building they’d been mulling over for years.
The buildout is an interactive showroom of the work Bentonville Ornamental Iron Inc. has been pumping into the community for years, but you would never know this is their first restaurant build. The interior of The Forge is both sparkling new and comfortably familiar. Every detail, beautiful and bold. They kept the craftsmanship a focal point by forgoing that traditional all-to-common tchotchke overload. Instead, they include a select few blacksmithing and iron primitives, somehow, a more modern choice. Wall-to-ceiling wood and overlapping beams with rich caramel and amber hues lend warmth to the space with ironwork throughout, a marriage of elements. Reclaimed table tops made of floor joists salvaged from a local shop balance beautifully in high-gloss atop thick iron bases. I imagine the bases have been plucked from the guts of a coal-powered locomotive.
It’s easy to picture memories being made here.
A wall-sized iron & glass garage door next to the back entrance will open the lofty dining room up to the spacious dog-friendly patio when weather permits. The seamless transition from inside to out maximizes the potential to accommodate private parties and events, and honors the Bentonville “Get out and play!” ethos. With plans to add fire pits, handmade iron torches lit aflame every night, a variety of tables, and a permanent blacksmithing setup for demonstrations, the patio is sure to become a dynamic attraction.
I settled at a table with Lise and as I sipped on a glass of Ozark’s Octoberfest, I can tell right away how genuine she is. “We love building things, obviously. We put everything in to our business and wanted to reinvest in this same spot.” I’m struck by how direct she is right away. Then in a blink she softens, “We wanted to provide jobs to great people. And we got great people.” She gestured towards the kitchen where I could peek in and see her cooks prepping diligently for dinner service.
“We wanted a place like our favorite pubs in Ireland. People there walk everywhere exploring their community for hours. It’s a way of life!” As she describes her favorite pub and the locals, I can picture it easily. “Then they just pop in to any one of the pubs or little shops they happen upon for a bite or drink. Then they go out and walk around some more! I loved that.”The menu at The Forge is chock-full of tried and true family recipes and pub classics perfect for a refueling like Lise describes.
The Reuben, melty, with bright pink corned beef, zippy kraut, and Russian dressing griddled on local marble rye has already become a favorite among staff and diners alike. Perusing the menu, I see that there are departures from Irish Pub food. “There truly is something for everyone on this menu,” Lise tells me. She goes through it item by item mentioning recipes adapted from her sister, her father, and those perfected in her own kitchen. Purists will love that Guinness is honored here in all of its glory. The staple brew shows up in the beer-battered Fish ‘n Chips, the braised Beef & Stout pot pie, and the Guinness BBQ Wings.
We spoke about the changes and development happening so rapidly around them. “I hope it continues and we see it become an area with people living out in the community even more. It inspired us so much that we built this hoping to help that along. Because this is home.”
“If you build it, they will come?” I joked.
“Yes, exactly,” she laughed.
Even in its infancy as a pub, they have big plans for The Forge to become a treasured downtown Bentonville institution, and they are collecting regulars at a rapid pace.
*Visitors to The Forge can enter through the Bentonville Ornamental Iron entrance on A Street, or Park anywhere in the vicinity of the public library or Train Station Park on South Main Street as well. Then come on in through the back patio entrance on the East-facing side of the building. Hours are Monday to Thursday, 11am-9pm, Friday & Saturday 11am-11pm, closed Sundays.