by Thomas W. Samph

It’s a busy Saturday night at Chestnut 7 on Germantown Avenue, but there’s plenty of elbow room for everyone.

The spacious new pub-grub joint took the place of Solaris in May, and the 30-odd bar stools stationed around the thick rectangular wooden bar top leave plenty of breathing room for a bite and a brew with friends.

“Chestnut Hill needed a bigger bar,” said bartender and Hill resident Steve Hartner, taking a breather.

He’s been shuttling back and forth between the beer taps and liquor stock all night; slinging spirits and pulling pints. Next to him, dishes of nachos, plates of French fries and burger platters spread out in front of patrons around the bar.

“Bars in Chestnut Hill are all kind of the same – you get there early and there’s nowhere to go with friends to find a space,” Hartner said.

Not at Chestnut 7, though. The food, drinks and space make this restaurant one of a kind. Behind Hartner, in a wide arc around the island bar, the patrons, eclectically clad in T-shirts and baseball caps or button downs and cotton pants, have plenty of room.

With elbows a-table, and drinks in hand, everyone is glued to the two large flat screen TVs above Hartner’s head. There’s a Phillies game on.

Bar tops can look and sound like the organized chaos of the Conshohocken Curve at rush hour – a traffic jam of arms, elbows, plates, silverware, bottles and colorful things in martini glasses. Chestnut 7, however, is more like the Autobahn: busy, spacious, and classy.

That’s why when Lisa Kopcsandy, a longtime Solaris supporter, heard about Chestnut 7, she couldn’t wait to bring her family and friends.

“I loved Solaris, but the bar was so closed in you couldn’t come and hang out,” Kopcsandy said, motioning to her small entourage perched at the bar eating, drinking and watching the game.

Still, Kopcsandy said that Chestnut 7 is not just a sports bar.

“You can come and watch the game, but it’s more upscale,” she said.

Chestnut 7’s business cards disparage any sports bar myths as well, with “Kitchen & Bar” printed on one side and “Restaurant & Lounge” on the other. Just as the owners of Chestnut 7 carefully picked the Chestnut Hill real estate on Germantown Avenue for its burgeoning food culture, they carefully picked the real estate of Kitchen and Restaurant on their cards.

Location, location, location – it’s somewhere in the space between the bar stools and the high wooden dining tables that Chestnut 7 takes on another role, Its role as renaissance restaurant, that is. The tempting aromas of crispy, thin-crust pizza with garlic, sundried tomato and olive waft from the open doors of the kitchen just behind the bar.

Serving up comfort foods like the CH7 burger, with your choice of five different cheeses, caramelized onions, mushrooms and applewood-smoked bacon, or a hearty jambalaya with shrimp, clams, chicken, and chorizo in a spicy Creole sauce, Chestnut 7 invites guests into a cozy, no fuss environment. You can even take it outside to the patio.

With the Phillies playing, however, and the massive flat screen TVs beaming the game into the bar area, the inside of Chestnut 7 stirs with the whoops and chatter of baseball fans.

“It’s a great vibe for the space,” said Michael Buchman, a young Mt. Airy resident, between bites of nachos and sips of beer. He glances up at Hunter Pence who launches one over the back wall.

“It’s a great improvement from Solaris. They’ve really opened it up,” he added.

At the other end of the bar, Beth Resch and her husband keep their distance from the din, but not too far to be out of touch with the action. The couple, who come to Chestnut Hill weekly from their home in Erdenheim for dinner or drinks, converse through the clangs and clinks of glasses and silverware.

“A lively atmosphere,” Beth said with a smile after finishing her pint.

At 9:30, Steve Hartner is still weaving in and out of co-workers behind the bar, pouring drinks and serving up food.

“There’s nothing comparable in Chestnut Hill,” he said. “It gives the parents in their 40s a nice place to go instead of going all the way to Philly. It’s a more sophisticated feel that’s closer.”

Plus, with Eagles season around the corner and plans to have live acoustic music sessions, Chestnut 7 is a restaurant for all seasons.