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Chester County Press

Square Roots Collective to open new cocktail bar in June

03/16/2021 05:00PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

As if Square Roots Collective has not already made a significant social, natural and cultural impact on southern Chester County, the Kennett Square-based organization is about to unveil another notch in its growing catalog of community-based projects.

It’s opening up a cocktail bar, one that will not only serve drinks with names that will impress any mixologist, but one that will also honor the heroes of The Underground Railroad movement.

Anticipated to open in commemoration with the Juneteenth celebration this year, Square Roots Collective’s Star and Lantern will be an intimate cocktail bar located in the former site of a boiler room at the Kennett Creamery on Birch Street in Kennett Square. 

The 100-seat venue will borrow some of its architectural design from the Creamery, combining the high ceilings and original stone walls with a menu and list of cocktails that evoke an era when the speakeasy served as a destination point for revelers.

“The entire theme of this concept, from the art on the wall to the names of the cocktails to the stories on the menus are positioned to encourage curiosity around the history of The Underground Railroad,” said Mike Bontrager, the founder of Square Roots Collective along with his wife, Dot, who introduced plans for the new venue at the Historic Kennett Square Economic Council’s March 12 online meeting. “In this era when we all are longing for good stories around race relations, the story of The Underground Railroad is just a story of free Blacks and white abolitionists working together and risking all to help enslaved people find freedom.”

Symbols of the movement

Star and Lantern gets its name from a blend of two symbols that were prominently featured along The Underground Railroad – the star, which served as a navigational tool, and the lantern, which was considered a sign of hospitality for those searching for their freedom along the route.

Bontrager said the Star and Lantern formed as a result of the creative intersection between two Square Roots Collective initiatives: The Creamery, its successful beer garden on Birch Street; and the Voices Underground Project, a partnership with Lincoln University that promotes the history of The Underground Railroad and racial healing through storytelling.

In many ways, Bontrager said the Star and Lantern will be reflective of the Project’s mission.

“Our purpose has been to harness the power of these stories, to understand how we got to the racial divide in our country, and to shift the attitudes so that people of different backgrounds can begin to lean toward each other rather than leaning away,” he said. “That happens best through engagement and through invitation. While the intangible goal of Voices Underground is racial healing through storytelling, our tangible goal is a public memorialization or a monument that can serve as a focal point for people who are interested in those stories.”

A ‘thirst’ to learn more

Bontrager said that the venue will serve as an invitation to spark the curiosity of its visitors.

“It’s our hope that people will want to learn more,” he said. “They’ll want to go the Kennett Heritage Center. They will want take the tours that the Kennett Underground Railroad Center provides. Our whole goal [with the cocktail bar] is to subtly encourage a thirst to learn more about our history, and take one more step in our journey toward racial healing.”

Star and Lantern is the latest in a series of Square Roots Collective’s initiatives, which together, help articulate the group’s mission to collaborate with other agencies to create a holistic network of opportunity, education and activity. In addition to The Creamery and the Voices Underground Project, its projects include the Kennett Trails Alliance, an initiative to physically link the Kennett community to natural surroundings and neighborhoods; the Kindergarten Readiness Initiative, that provides educational opportunities to children from underserved neighborhoods; the Birch Street Project, a plan to develop the street as a cultural attraction; and the Southern Chester County Opportunity Network, a collaborative group of local leaders united to address poverty.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].