“I love things that transport me to a different time and place,” says Caroline Jolliffe, the owner of Newburyport’s newest, and possibly coolest, restaurant. “The Joy Nest reminds me of my experience in Thailand.”
Jolliffe, who lived in Thailand for more than two years in the early 1990s, is no stranger to the hospitality business. For the last nine years she has been the owner of Brown Sugar by the Sea, a popular Newburyport restaurant that also serves Thai cuisine. But, she says, the two establishments are very different.
“Brown Sugar is more about Thai comfort food, the dishes that everyone expects at a Thai restaurant,” she says. “The Joy Nest’s menu was inspired by Thai street food.”
Another inspiration for The Joy Nest was Jolliffe’s love of beautiful things, which is hard to miss when you walk into the restaurant. Sophisticated yet earthy and comfortable, The Joy Nest’s speakeasy-inspired decor emits a cozy, jazzy vibe meant to evoke a simpler, more joyful time. It’s an atmosphere that makes you want to put on your best suit, even if it’s a bit wrinkled from your last night out.
According to Jolliffe, the restaurant, which opened this past Valentine’s Day in the space formerly occupied by Glenn’s Food & Libations at the Tannery Historic Marketplace, has been very well received in spite of the pandemic. “Everyone is starved for fun and excitement,” she says.
The Joy Nest’s stylish interior is dominated by bird imagery, most notably the large pink peacock created by a local artist. “Even last February, before the pandemic, I felt like we were in a dark place,” Jolliffe says. “Peacocks are elegant, flashy and positive. I felt like Newburyport needed a place with a little more pizzazz.”
Although The Joy Nest’s menu was inspired by street food, the plates coming out of its kitchen are anything but. Jolliffe and her staff have reimagined dishes like moo ping, street-style pork skewers served with a chili-vinegar dipping sauce, giving them a stylish aesthetic, something she hopes will make people want to try menu items not often found locally.
Craft cocktails, which Jolliffe describes as being mostly “gin-forward,” are another key ingredient in The Joy Nest’s happiness elixir. One of Jolliffe’s personal favorites is “The Nest,” a combination of gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau and lemon finished with a splash of absinthe. “People like experimenting with different cocktails depending on their mood,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll order the same drink all night, and other times they’ll mix it up.”
And let’s not forget the jazz. Jolliffe has been booking live musicians to play in The Joy Nest’s upstairs lounge since mid-April.
Jolliffe’s post-pandemic plans include more tables and adding dishes to the menu that are inspired by cuisine from other Asian countries. “I’d love to get more people in here,” she says.
Over and above everything else, Jolliffe says it’s important to her that The Joy Nest’s customers come away with a sense of the Thai culture’s legendary hospitality and love for food.
“The Thais’ level of love for food is different than ours — almost like the Italians’,” she says. “When you go to someone’s house in Thailand, the first thing they ask is, ‘Have you eaten yet?’ Even if you say no, you still get something, even if it’s just some fruit or a glass of orange juice. It’s one of the most appealing parts of their culture. I want people to feel like we are happy they are here and that we want to feed them.”
Jolliffe recently appeared on our podcast, The 495. Click below for the full interview:
The Joy Nest