A Somerville bar celebrated 10 years in business last month, and in a city where transient college students roam and new residential and retail developments are popping up everywhere, that’s something to celebrate. Trina’s Starlite Lounge (3 Beacon St.) sits at the border between Somerville and Cambridge in Inman Square (along with sister restaurant Parlor Sports), and according to owners Josh Childs and Beau Sturm, not a whole lot has changed over its decade in the role of neighborhood bar.
The pair opened Starlite in 2009, with co-owner and executive chef Suzi Maitland, and got off the ground running.
“We brought in some really good people because of their reputations, so it was kind of an all-star cast when we opened up,” Sturm said. “We had a great kitchen. Suzi was in the kitchen five, six nights a week. We had a great all-star team, and we had opened up right on the shoulder of the recession.”
There were great people fighting for jobs, and Starlite built a strong, hardworking staff with Childs, Sturm, and Maitland aiming to establish an appealing, welcoming work environment.
“I do think that we’ve created a culture where it’s desirable to work here, and I feel very lucky about that,” Childs said.
They led the charge in the beginning, tending bar, cooking, and managing Starlite while hosting neighbors and out-of-towners alike. Over the years, Childs and Sturm added team members that carry that mantle forward to make Starlite a comfortable destination.
“We are a modern neighborhood bar,” said Sturm. “I think that we’ve taken that kind of dive bar/neighborhood bar where the softball team comes in and gets wasted after their softball game on Sunday afternoon, and we’ve kind of given that to a transient, very eclectic economic neighborhood, and I think we’ve kinda hit a good place there.”
Their basic philosophy: Start with good people and you’ll end up with good food, good drinks, and good hospitality for all. One of those good people, general manager Emma Hollander, has played an important role in making sure Starlite is a welcoming place for all, including for marginalized individuals in the community.
“She really is the driving force behind the last five years of Starlite, at least,” Sturm said. “There’s a real comfort level here for all walks of life at Starlite that I think is kind of unusual to a bar. That probably translates to people coming back in who don’t live here anymore. This is a comfortable neighborhood bar, a real 21st-century neighborhood bar.”
Regulars who visit Starlite week to week and those who pop in every couple years will see the spirit remain, with pretty much only the fridge magnets changing week to week.
“I always wanted to be a place where everybody’s welcome. And if we have a line, it’s literally because there’s capacity,” Childs said.
Over the course of 10 years, the pair’s role has evolved with the business, going from making drinks behind the bar to making sure the HVAC system gets fixed or leaks in the basement get addressed. Now, Sturm spends much of the week at the group’s Newburyport restaurant, the Paddle Inn, and the pair is content to see their legacy of hospitality still reflected in the staff at Starlite a decade later.
“We’ve always said, hire people more talented than yourself; get good people and kind of get out of their way,” Childs said.
The team at Starlite puts heart and soul into everything, including the messages displayed on the restaurant’s famous fridge, which has its own Instagram account (one thing that didn’t yet exist when Starlite opened). The fridge — which is functional, in addition to entertaining — displays a new message each week that’s sometimes encouraging, sometimes sassy, and sometimes sentimental, fueled by staff suggestions.
“They definitely took it and ran with it,” Childs said.
Other hallmarks of Starlite’s 10 years in Inman Square include the murals outside the restaurant, including a rotating display on the wall of Parlor Sports and the longstanding pineapple wearing headphones that’s been part of Starlite since the early days. The restaurant also has some new bling in the form of Starlite signs imported from the former Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Amesbury, which Childs, Sturm, and Maitland recently transferred to their silent partners Eric Anderson and J. Grimaldi, who have rebranded it as Sky Hi Kitchen + Bar. The change won’t affect anything at the original Starlite in Somerville.
“This has always been our baby,” Childs said. “I feel like we’ve kind of hit a home run in the timing of the growth of this neighborhood and so on. Hopefully this kind of place could become the next generation of those kind of long-lived spots.”
“We kind of build timeless and bulletproof,” Sturm said. “We want people to hang out and have drinks, enjoy each other, enjoy the company, listen to some good music, and just feel comfortable.”