Bacon and fondue were already a unique combination for two co-owned businesses in the same downtown Auburn building.
But when the owners of Lava and House of Bacon added comedy shows, a bloody Mary bar, paint classes, princess parties and burlesque dancing to the two businesses, the duo offered up something unlike anything Maine has seen.
Co-owners Marcus Verrill and Joe Richards opened the fondue-and-cabaret-themed restaurant and lounge Lava in January 2017. In September of that year they opened House of Bacon.
“We want it to be fun for everybody,” said Verrill.
Verrill began his journey at Styxx nightclub in Portland in 2004. Richards joined six years later before they both left in 2012 to open a Mexican restaurant in Sanford.
Seizing opportunity in Ogunquit, the pair then opened their first bacon-themed restaurant, Let’s Get Bacon, which was a seasonal spot in 2014.
After dabbling in the bacon world, they sought some cabaret nightlife, opening Studio 54 in Portland.
“We did really well with it,” said Verrill. “But the landlord came to us just as we finished paying everything off and said they’re going to sell the building.”
Being from the Lewiston-Auburn area, the pair decided to relocate to Auburn.
“We knew this building was open, so we took a gander in it and we knew it was a lot of work,” said Verrill. “Not only a lot of work, but we also knew the image that we had to beat. This building was the cursed building, and we’re showing that it’s what’s inside that counts.”
Since 2007 five different establishments have made the 34 Court St. location home. Offerings included Greek, Mediterranean and American food, and even a blues cafe.
But none of these establishments offered the unique combination Verrill and Richards now provide.
A shared kitchen separates the two businesses, and Verrill and Richards can be seen bouncing from one to the other as their week of food service and entertainment begins.
Currently, on Wednesdays the House of Bacon offers 25-cent tacos.
“We were doing the LA Karaoke Challenge on Thursdays,” said Richards. “But it just ended and there was a $1,000 prize winner.”
Next door, Lava’s week has been starting on Thursdays with a paint class.
Customers can then see a comedy show at House of Bacon Friday and Saturday nights, before going over to watch the burlesque dancers take the stage at Lava.
Sunday ends the week with brunch at House of Bacon and wine-and-paint parties at Lava, where customers can come in and paint a wine glass.
“And then we do a princess party once a month on Saturdays at House of Bacon for 3- to 7-year-olds,” said Verrill. “We had 50 princesses last time and one of the cast members comes in and sings and does a craft with them.”
The entertainment is sure to keep the community busy, but the food can be even wilder than the princess parties or cabaret shows combined.
The Bomb B.L.T. is not surprisingly the most popular dish at House of Bacon, stacked with 20 pieces of bacon, served open face on Texas toast along with bacon mayonnaise. And for $2, customers can add more bacon.
“It’s hard to keep the bacon in stock with that one,” said Richards.
The creme brulee French toast is another popular dish with six pieces of French toast stacked high with maple bourbon whipped cream and bacon jam.
“We try to bring something different and bigger,” said Richards. “It’s not just a diner here.”
The restaurant also offers 13 flavors of bacon, including Parmesan, honey mustard, sweet Cajun ginger, raspberry, pork belly and chocolate almond joy.
Patrons can also enjoy a cocktail with bacon-infused vodka or whiskey.
At Lava, customers get a taste of the fondue world. Offerings range from pizza fondue with Parmesan cheese, garlic and homemade vodka sauce, to cake batter fondue with vanilla yogurt, marshmallow flush and rainbow sprinkles.
Since opening, Verrill and Richards have not slowed down as their offerings continue to bring customers through the doors.
“Our breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays (at House of Bacon) is about an hour wait after 10 a.m. to get in,” said Verrill.
Next door, customers can make reservations for the cabaret shows through Facebook. Seats are often sold out two weeks beforehand.
“It’s never an empty house,” said Verrill. “We’ll always have a packed show.”
From the comedy to cabaret, Verrill and Richards like to mix it up. “We have a little bit of everything here,” said Richards.
The duo not only run the two businesses, but welcome customers, attend cast rehearsals and run the lights and sound system during the cabaret shows.
“As people leave they say they’ve had the best three hours of their life here,” said Verrill clasping his hands to his heart. “That’s why we opened here.”
To Verrill and Richards their future is bright as they plan to be an establishment that stays.
At the end of April the pair is planning to open a patio in front of House of Bacon offering live acoustical music during brunch hours and weekend nights.
After the summer, the two are already talking about expanding and opening a wine bar.
“It would be a lot different,” said Verrill. “Something controllable, something small and we can just keep a close eye on it.”
But for now the pair continues to work up creative, event-filled offerings for guests.
“We know that if you give the town something different, that they (get used to) it,” said Verrill. “We have something fun to do. Come in and have a good time, we don’t want you to rush out of here.”
House bloody Mary mix
1 46-ounce bottle of tomato juice*
2-4 tablespoons spicy horseradish (the more you use, the hotter it gets)
1 tablespoon course black pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 ounces Worcestershire sauce
3 ounces A-1 Sauce
3 ounces pepperoncini, pickle or olive juice
Combine 6-8 ounces of the mix with 2 ounces of vodka into a glass. Pour back and forth into another glass with ice 3 or 4 times to mix and chill.
* Add hot sauce for an even spicier bloody Mary.