bar moro is opening in the former billie-jean space photo by carmen troesser

Ben Poremba will launch Bar Moro in former Billie-Jean space in Clayton this fall

Ben Poremba’s Bengelina Hospitality Group will launch a new “Spanish-Mediterranean” restaurant, Bar Moro, in the former Billie-Jean space at 7610 Wydown Blvd. in Clayton. Poremba anticipates a late September launch for the new restaurant.  

The announcement completes a series of deals that have seen three high-profile St. Louis restaurant operators move into spaces on Wydown Boulevard previously occupied by restaurateur Zoe Robinson’s trio of acclaimed restaurants. In March, Take Root Hospitality took over the Bar Les Freres space, before opening Bistro La Floraison in July. Meanwhile, Louie chef-owner Matt McGuire is currently renovating the I Fratellini space with a view to launching Wright’s Tavern

Poremba said Bar Moro will be a reflection of his passion for the cuisines of the Iberian peninsula, including the North African influences that have contributed to shaping the region’s food culture. “I love Spanish food culture,” Poremba said. “I've been wanting to do this concept for a very long time. That space just lends itself for that sort of thing, because of its size and its location, its interior design. It just made sense.” 

The menu will include tapas, main plates, and a selection of conservas – tinned, preserved seafood ranging from razor clams to mackerel. These are highly prized in Spain and Portugal, and Poremba is excited about serving them to Bar Moro customers. “We’re not talking 99 cent sardines, we’re talking $30 and $40 beautiful razor clams,” Poremba said. “It's unbelievable, the quality of those tinned fish in Spain – it's unmatched.” Bar Moro’s menu will also include salt-cured fish, octopus, carne asada and lamb skewers, with occasional paella specials. 

The name “Moro” (which is Spanish for “Moor”) hints at another key aspect of Poremba’s concept. The chef is keen to highlight the Moorish influence on Iberian culinary traditions, a legacy of North African rule over Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages. Lamb skewers are just one example of what Poremba has in store on that front. “It’s the spices, some of the condiments, like harissa, preserved lemons,” he said. “I'm going to incorporate into things like the use of dried fruit. The flavors are going to be very much influenced by the neighbors from the south, so to speak.”

The Iberian theme will also run through the drink list. Poremba’s wine director is currently in Spain “doing a little bit of a deep dive” on sherry, which he said will be reflected in the bar program. The botanical flavors of vermouth and gin and tonic will also feature prominently, and there will be a strong emphasis on Spanish and Portuguese wines, with potential for a few Moroccan wines to be added to the mix. 

Poremba described Bar Moro’s ambiance as “casual enough for people in the neighborhood to come in and walk over with their flip-flops, but also nice enough for people to travel to it,” he said. While Bar Moro will reveal some updates to the interior, Poremba stressed that the restaurant will retain much of the spirit of Billie-Jean. “I want to have a lot of Zoe in there,” he said. “It's very important for me that her imprint and her legacy stays.” 

The space’s jet black walls will remain, as will some of the furniture. “I'm replacing the art and I'm replacing a little few touches here and there, but it's going to feel like what it was – the spirit of the space stays the same,” Poremba said. He estimated the restaurant’s size at around 1,000 square feet, and said Bar Moro will seat around 36 to 40 diners, with some additional patio seating. 

Bar Moro will be the latest addition to Bengelina’s collection of restaurants and food and beverage concepts, joining Olio and Elaia, The Benevolent King, Nixta, AO&Co, and the forthcoming Deli Divine, which is slated to open in February 2023. 

Poremba said Bar Moro will open for dinner only, though the restaurant could open as early as 4 p.m. to “catch a little bit of a happy hour kind of thing.” Initially, he said, the restaurant could open Tuesdays through Saturdays, but ultimately the goal is to be open six days a week.