BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Instead of teller windows and deposit slips, the old Waterville State Savings Bank will soon feature a 24-foot bar and cocktail napkins.
By this summer, Josh Wagy expects to open Farnsworth Cocktail Bar in the 1924 bank building at 223 Farnsworth Rd.
“This is a beautiful building,” he said last week, as he watched a worker install honeycomb subway tile on the front of the bar.
The wooden deposit counters, an ornate chandelier and the tall windows lend character to the interior, but what stands out the most is the large vault with a 2-foot-thick door that swings open to reveal a second, barred door.
The vault, lined with shelves, is an ideal space for storing wine or unruly customers, Wagy joked.
Converting the old building into a restaurant has been a challenge, but with Miller Diversified hired on as general contractor, the job is finally moving forward.
Plans include a wheelchair-accessible ramp along the Third Street side of the building, where one set of windows will be made into an archway for a door. An ADA-compliant restroom will be installed in a vestibule on the first floor. Another entry will be installed on the east side by the 16-space parking lot, and a covered patio will be added to seat up to 16.
Inside, renovations include the addition of a decorative drop ceiling, an L-shaped bar with an oyster bar area to one side, and tables around the exterior. In total, up to 36 can be seated inside.
And that’s just the way Wagy wants it.
“It’s small enough to handle people well on a personal level,” he said.
While Wagy has a full-time career with Fuse Tech, offering an adventurous dining experience in a great atmosphere has been his passion. In 2015, he launched his first restaurant, Kengo Sushi & Yakitori in Toledo, with Kengo Kato. In order to focus on the Waterville venture, Wagy recently sold his portion to Kato’s family.
“You might see some influence from Kengo, but this will not be a sushi bar. This is a cocktail bar with an oyster bar area. We’ll have food from Maine to New Orleans,” he said “We’re going to start slow and easy. We want to execute at a high level with a small menu.”
A team of about 10-15 will be hired to work roughly 4:00 to 10:00 p.m.
“I don’t want to work late, either. I want time off to go to Shawn’s or Mad Anthony’s,” he laughed.
The other area restauranteurs have been extremely supportive, and Wagy said he expects Farnsworth Cocktail Bar to be a vital part of what he calls “the L” – Third Street and Farnsworth Road restaurants and bars leading down to the soon-to-be-revitalized riverfront park.
As he’s worked on the building, Wagy has had plenty of visitors stopping by to peek inside.
“I’ve heard wild stories about this building,” he said.
While shopping at Waterville Hardware Store, Wagy said owners John and Marcia Knollman encouraged him to get a copy of the Waterville book. Inside, he found a photo of the original Waterville Bank building being moved from the corner to Third Street in 1924. That structure became the headquarters of the I.O.O.F. (International Order of Odd Fellows) but now houses Hall of Framers.
Wagy said he’s also heard tales of robberies and bullet holes.
In a 2019 article on the Waterville Historical Society’s website, John Rose writes of two robberies. On January 2, 1932, two pistol-wielding men robbed the bank of $4,000 and escaped with a third accomplice in a getaway car.
In November 1933, two men dressed as women got away with $600. When an alarm sounded, armed men came running from Graf’s Garage down the street, but they hesitated long enough at the sight of what they thought were two women that the robbers were able to back their car up the hill to Fourth Street and “get away in a hail of bullets from the Waterville men.”
Anti-theft devices – including a barrier with 15,000 volts and a row of spikes – were added to the teller windows in 1937, and the bank wasn’t robbed again until 1955.
The building’s rich history and great location attracted several restauranteurs to consider the property when it was for sale, Wagy said. Longtime friend Brian Kazmierczak, of Rubber Tree Properties, purchased the property so Wagy can lease it for the first five years while he focuses on getting the business running.
“This is an amazing building. I hope to do something Waterville really is proud of,” Wagy said.