The faint melody of blues music and the aroma of smoking meat drifts out of the imposing white brick façade of the former American Bank & Trust building. It can inspire the occasional double take from passersby who don't know that the opulent space is now occupied by Gerald’s Smokehouse. Inside, where bank tellers once counted cash, there's now a meat smoker that roasts ribs.
Restaurateur Gerald Bester has striven to preserve the building's old-fashioned bits of grandeur. The former deposit slip column has been upended into a long table, and the bank vault serves as the centerpiece of the dining room and as a time-out room for fussy dining companions. Sunlight pours through the service window at the end of the bar. Mr. Bester has also updated the space by transforming the second floor into a VIP lounge furnished with flat-screen TVs, leather couches, and an outside smoking patio.
Mr. Bester, who has a background in entertainment and promotions, strives to lure in international musicians, comedians, and poets to the restaurant’s stage. “I knew from an early age I wanted to be an entrepreneur," he says. "Comedy, bands—I just wanted it all in one location, with good food and good drinks.”
In contrast to the oft-elaborate décor, Mr. Bester keeps the food casual, offering southern-style barbecue. His chefs smoke ribs atop beds of apple-pecan and hickory wood and serve the meat alongside heaping sides of fried green tomatoes and collard greens.