By Christina Clark

Creativity is at the center of a new restaurant in Niles.

The experience begins in the parking lot of Create Bar and Grill, located at 1245 S. 11th St. in Niles

Upon arrival, guests are welcomed by the sight of murals by local artists on the fences outside. Entering the restaurant, they are immediately greeted with a mural featuring splashes of color. As their eyes wander around the walls, and they are shown to their table by a host, diners will notice original artwork adorning each wall of the restaurant. The artwork is all local to the region, and information for every piece is available to those interested in learning more about the artist, and even purchasing the piece.

Seated at the table, diners will be invited to enjoy familiar favorites as well as plated meals, along with artfully crafted cocktails.

Beneath the plates and glasses at each table is butcher paper. An assortment of crayons and colored pencils is given to each table – even the ones without children.

Everyone is encouraged to put their phones down and indulge their creativity as they conversate with those at their table, while enjoying “familiar American.”

General Manager Nate Barnett was originally looking forward to debuting the space, dishes, drinks and artwork to diners in the restaurant’s grand opening event on Black Friday. The grand opening, pushed back by Michigan’s “Pause to Save Lives” order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, opened to guests when restaurants were allowed to proceed with in-house dining, as opposed to simply a carry-out menu.

The delay in opening occurred is because Nate envisions the space to be an immersive experience.

“The thing we were really missing [during 2020] was interactive spaces, in restaurants in general,” Nate says. “We haven’t been able to do our vacations, or really our normal lives. Coming up with a concept for the restaurant, my main focus was ‘what can we do to give guests an experience, visual, audio and all encompassing, but have them engage in the space?’”

Nate’s passion for Create Bar and Grill comes through in each conversation. His own eyes wander to the artwork on the walls as he speaks about the support he hopes the restaurant will bring to local artists, who did not had many venues to display and present their work through 2020.

Nate’s vision was to create a restaurant with a higher-end feel. He wants to invite all ages in to experience original artwork on the walls, create artwork on the tables, and eventually include musicians and poets to complete the immersion.

“We have [supplies] on every table where everyone can create, so you won’t just be on your phones,” Nate says. “Artists haven’t been able to express themselves at art shows this year, so we wanted to help local artists. It’s amazing to see what creativity they come up with.”

Every person’s individual creativity and expression is important to Nate. He looks forward to displaying some of the artwork done on the tables, by taking photos and eventually projecting them onto a wall in the restaurant in the future.

Crafted cocktails and new takes on familiar dishes are something Barnett was excited about bringing to the new diners.

“We look at the food as art, as well,” Nate says.

He wants the chefs and cooks to view their craft in a creative way too. They have been encouraged to experiment and concoct new presentations and flavors for familiar, American dishes.

“We have been playing with some fun, gourmet grilled cheeses and mac and cheeses, but we also have some nice entrees as well: steak frites, a nice rib eye, a stuffed chicken, a salmon dish, and a couple vegan and vegetarian options as well,” he says.

Nate noticed the shift over 2020 to including more creative vegetarian and vegan meals into menus, that might even make non-vegans do a double take. He wanted to incorporate offerings for everyone.

He looks forward to having the menu evolve as the creativity in the kitchen is inspired.

“We had to look at our menus as constantly evolving,” Nate says. “[The chefs] are always being creative.”

When Nate looks around Create Bar and Grill, he is hopeful his restaurant will continue to inspire creativity in Michiana.

“We wanted to bring a nice, sit down restaurant in this city,” he says. “We want to give them something nice and close [to home] have their own unique flavor. Definitely uniquely for Niles.” χ