For Lisa Mercado, opening The Pub, just a few short steps down the hall from her beloved restaurant, The Living Room in Boynton Beach, is a long-held wish come true.
“It’s like coming home and honoring what has given me the most perfect life — perfect husband, perfect kids, perfect employees, perfect customers,” she says.
Mercado officially calls the space “The Pub at The Living Room,” but to her and the customers who have been following her around for 20-some years it’s a throwback to the Red Lion Pub. And the Red Lion Pub is where a large part of this “perfect life” sprang forth.
“The Red Lion is really where my life really began,” Mercado remembers. “I met my husband there. I found my passion for life and cooking and hosting. We’re still together 24 years later. I wanted to honor the pub by bringing it back.”
She met her husband, Robby Mercado, who was the chef at his family’s original Red Lion Pub in Boynton Beach, while eating a pork pie dinner. He asked her out. They started dating. Then she made a fateful peanut butter pie for the pub, which was owned by his parents. The pie sold out instantly. So she made another dessert.
“The next thing I knew I was working and they (Robby’s parents) were all retired,” she says.
That silky pie is now on the menu at The Living Room, which Mercado opened on Oct. 1, 2009. The Red Lion Pub closed the Boynton location in 2005, and it sold its second location, in Boca Raton, a year later.
At The Living Room, Mercado created a relaxed, whimsical setting, a lounge-y eatery. The space is decorated with comfy couches, intimate seating, books to browse — like the Living Room you wish you had.
It’s been a bustling ride. The place has been busy since the beginning, with “cheap date nights” and popular trivia nights, a carryover from the Red Lion Pub.
“People always say, ‘is your house decorated like this?’ And I say, ‘No, because whenever I buy something, I bring it to the restaurant,’” Lisa Mercado says with a laugh.
But after seeing the restaurant packed every night and her favorite customers unable to get a table, Mercado knew it was time for drastic measures. The space next door was a hair salon that had stood vacant for seven years. She signed the lease and they turned it over in 30 days. Then began the grueling renovations.
“It wasn’t just painting, (it was) a lot of cleaning, getting mildew off. We redid the whole floor. We made the windows. We did the faux brick. We cut the wood,” she says.
It took intensive cleaning — such intensive cleaning that it pulled Mercado out of her signature high heels and cute outfits, something she wasn’t thrilled with. But somehow she and her team did it all. One of the girls in the restaurant sewed the cheery curtains. A server’s boyfriend painted the red lion holding court on the wall. Mercado herself sponged the faux brick on the wall (“The longest part was taping it out.”)
The end result is a warm, cheerful and spacious bar with walls sconces, flowers, and birdcages on the wall, gold picture frames and possibly the most inventive bathroom in town.
“I wanted things that would still attract women and not feel like they’re in a sports bar. So the chandeliers have pretty beads on them, and we light candles on the tables because girls like candles and I like them,” Mercado says. “My husband asks what I’m doing and I say, ‘It’s a pub for girls.’”
As for the food, the kitchen with Mercado at the helm serves both The Living Room and The Pub, but the menus retain their own identities.
“We wanted to have a bit more fun and be kind of creative (at The Pub),” Mercado says. “For instance, our turkey club – instead of bacon, we use duck bacon. Our nachos – nachos you usually think of vegetarian or beef or occasionally chicken. We did a tur-duck-en nachos. We also have a hot dog panini.”
The Pub will also carry a specialty cocktail menu, craft beers and familiar wines from The Living Room.
Their sandwiches come with homemade potato chips and real French onion dip — made with caramelized onions, thyme and red wine. Scotch eggs and a bread bowl lined with cheese and filled with roast beef and gravy round out the menu.
All of which sets up Mercado to do what she does best of all: cook, host, and welcome her guests into what has become her extended home. In addition to all the lunches, dinners, trivia nights and festive evenings that drift late into the night, Mercado hosts birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, 101st birthday parties and memorial services.
“Last week we had a baby shower on that side and a memorial service on this side — the whole circle of life,” Mercado says.
All held in her Living Room.
LISA MERCADO’S FAMOUS PEANUT BUTTER PIE
This is the pie that won Lisa Mercado a space on the menu at the old Red Lion Pub, where she met her husband and launched her restaurant career. She now serves the pie at her popular Boynton spot, The Living Room, as well as at the new pub she opened in the eatery’s adjacent space. Mercado offers this recipe, which makes two pies, “one for now and one for later!”
Makes two pies
For the crust:
2 Keebler Ready Crust Graham “2 Extra Servings” Pie Crust
For the filling:
Two 8-ounce containers of cream cheese, softened
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 jar (approximately 16.3 ounces) peanut butter
8 ounces heavy cream
16 ounces powdered sugar
Cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the peanut butter and continue to mix. Slowly add the heavy cream and powder sugar, alternating until completely smooth and fully incorporated.
Divide filling evenly between the two crusts.
For the topping:
8 ounces of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of butter
12 ounces of good quality chocolate
In a saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted. Pour over the chocolate and allow to sit for two minutes. Stir until the chocolate is melted and shiny.
Pour topping evenly on the two pies. Refrigerate until firm.
Note: Pies also may be frozen, and are delicious when served like that as well, says Mercado.
SEVEN QUESTIONS WITH LISA MERCADO
1. What’s your favorite restaurant (other than your own?)
Buccan. I love Clay (Palm Beach-based Executive Chef Clay Conley). I think he’s amazing, and I love the fact that he uses fresh products and that he’s innovative.
2. How do you get so many hours out of one day?
A lot of energy and a lot of support from family and friends — and from customers, too.
3. Where’s your dream vacation?
4. What’s your guilty pleasure?
My favorite thing, I know it’s going to sound weird, but: a cheese and onion sandwich in England. Unpasteurized cheddar and fresh-baked baguette and real creamy, soft butter and onions.
5. What do you make for yourself at the end of the day?
Shepherd’s Pie with extra mash and extra cheese and peas.
6. What was the hardest thing about pulling The Pub together?
It was all hard because we wanted to get it done in a short amount of time. Maybe not being able to wear my heels and favorite dresses.
7. What’s your favorite wine?
Radio-Coteau Cherry Camp Syrah (Sonoma Coast, California). It is the best wine in the world.
The Pub at The Living Room
- Located at 1707 N. Congress Avenue, Boynton Beach; 561-742-4399; Facebook.com/LivingRoomBoynton
- Open Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. until close. Starting October 1, it’s open every day at 4:30 p.m. until close.