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Fenway eatery on the menu

Restaurant next upgrade for '08

Sox owner John W. Henry, who has instituted many changes at Fenway Park, strolls the grounds prior to last night's World Series opener against the Colorado Rockies. Sox owner John W. Henry, who has instituted many changes at Fenway Park, strolls the grounds prior to last night's World Series opener against the Colorado Rockies. (STAN GROSSFELD/GLOBE STAFF)

Fenway Park, John Updike's "lyric little bandbox," could have the bags put away and the foul lines rubbed out for the season following Game 2 of the World Series.

But even if the Red Sox and Rockies return for a game or two next week, the offseason at the corner of Yawkey Way and Boylston Street will be anything but idle. Once the final out of the 2007 season is in the scorebook, workers will begin a number of remodeling tasks at the 95-year-old ballyard, including the construction of a year-round field-level restaurant tucked into the some 4,000 square feet of vacant space under the center-field bleachers.

The project, dubbed "The Bleacher Bar" restaurant, is expected to be finished for a March 2008 opening, and stands to be the most talked-about change in the evolving and beloved Back Bay architectural icon. According to staff architect Janet Marie Smith, the grand overseer of sprucing up Fenway, the restaurant will inhabit the space behind the huge garage door in center field and will allow patrons (approximately 150 maximum) to sit at dining tables and peer out to the field.

"For the price of a hamburger," said Smith, noting that some 300,000 visitors come to Fenway year round for tours of the old ballpark, "those folks can wander in and take a peek, too."

There is no telling yet, said Smith, whether patrons will be able to sit in the restaurant while games are being played. Such a decision will be made, she said, only after testing it under game-like conditions, most importantly getting a read on how the restaurant's lighting might affect fielders and batters.

"This is squarely in the batter's eye," said Smith, speaking in her office early last night. "We'll have to see if the players are comfortable with the glare. No doubt, though, folks in the restaurant will be able to watch batting practice, and then in January, come in and see the snow fall."

Bleacherites, some 6,500 strong, will return in April to find all new seats across center and right field. But according to Smith, the look of the seats will not change. They will be the same color, size, and shape, manufactured from blow-molded plastic, with standard arm rests.

The Red Sox began selling the existing bleacher seats at $550 per pair weeks ago and the seats will be ripped out and shipped to purchasers in the offseason. According to Smith, one-third of the stock could not be sold, due to design and configuration of the seats.

"You lose one for every two you take out," she said.

And how are sales going?

"I think they're all gone," she said.

Even the most starstruck baseball fans, had they cast an eye toward the blue grandstand seats around the park, last night would have noticed that hundreds upon hundreds of the seats, which date to 1934, are in dire need of scraping and painting. The club with the most expensive ticket prices, on average, in the majors has old, wooden grandstand seats that, if left at a Goodwill box, likely would not be accepted.

The repair-and-paint issue, noted Smith, has become somewhat sensitive among Red Sox officials. They realize the need to paint them, but open for debate is how to go about applying the fresh coat. The most thorough method, she said, would be to remove the seats and strip the paint off with heavy-duty chemicals. But the most thorough method might not be the most aesthetically pleasing.

"It's kind of a sore subject around here," Smith acknowledged. "They've made it through almost 75 years, and I know I don't want to be the one that junks 'em. They're hand-painted, and there are some people who feel the layers of paint, and the patina of the paint, truly are part of the character of the park. We've all seen the close-up pictures of those seats, shot straight-on, and they are unique to Fenway. As I hear the debate, I have to say, I have mixed emotions over how to proceed."

Construction workers this offseason also will be busy with a number of "second-deck" repairs and remodeling, many of them, said Smith, aimed at replacing the rotting roof that hangs over the grandstand seats. The State Street Pavilion, which occupies considerable space atop the roof down the third base and left-field side, will be completed. Out along the right-field roof, the temporary boxes erected for the 1999 All-Star Game will be replaced with a permanent structure.

The Fenway property, according to Smith, totals 7 1/2 acres, or about half the size of Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.

All the changes, said Smith, are being made with an eye on the Sox remaining for years to come in the lyric little bandbox. AT&T Park in San Francisco, the modern-day jewel that houses the Giants, is built on 21 acres. Of all the obstacles the Sox face in rehabbing and remodeling Fenway, said Smith, the biggest challenge is lack of space.

"Space, space, space," Smith said emphatically, another sellout crowd of some 37,000 streaming into park for the first pitch. "No doubt the age of the park has proven to be manageable. We've been able to realize most of our goals, in part because we haven't attempted to build out to 50,000 seats, but something just shy of 40,000. And the age of Fenway took time for us to digest and understand, but it's been good to us."

Built in 1912, Fenway's 100th anniversary is 4 1/2 years away. The materials used in the ongoing renovations, said Smith, are typically rated to last upward of a half-century. Like the building goods in the old yard, said Smith, they'll last even longer with proper care.

"All of it is aimed," said Smith, "at Fenway lasting another generation."

And how long is that?

"Well, the reason we say 'generation'," said Smith, offering a wry smile, "is that we don't know. Look at your own family tree, I guess . . . is a generation 20 years, 40 years?"

Based on the deep, deep roots of Fenway's brick-and-concrete flora and fauna, time cannot be measured in years, but in innings, memories, and work repair orders.

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