Bonjour Belen

A French bistro and ultra lounge debuts in downtown Royal Oak.

Aaron F. Belen is no stranger to nightlife. On weekends during college, he hosted upscale parties on and off campus. “I could have done the typical keg party, but that’s not my style,” says Belen, principal of A.F.B. Hospitality Group in Berkley. “We’d bring in DJs and celebrities, and it was very much like an ultra lounge.”

In 2005, after college, the entrepreneur invested in various commercial projects, a versatile laptop cover called Clam Case, and a handful of restaurants and nightclubs in the region. “For the restaurants, I was the silent partner, but I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do my own restaurants and nightclubs,” he says.

When the owners of Sangria, at Lafayette and Fourth in downtown Royal Oak, decided to sell their two-story establishment a few months back (co-owner Luigi Cutraro opened Trattoria Pizzeria Luigi a block away on Washington, south of Fourth), Belen saw an opportunity to develop a restaurant featuring French cuisine.

Called Bistro 82, the dining room is on the first level, with 159 seats, a porcelain tile floor, a black onyx bar, and spacious, open seating that complements an ultra lounge called Sabrage (named from a French custom where a bottle of champagne is opened using a sabre) on the second floor. In addition to a white onyx bar, the upper space, with a capacity for 226 people, will feature a DJ booth framed by a 900-gallon shark tank.

“We’ll have small black tip sharks which, as they grow, we will sell on the open market to people who have large aquariums in their homes or offices,” Belen says.

He hired chef Derik Watson, who worked at Iridescence at the MotorCity Casino Hotel and the former Tribute in Farmington Hills, to oversee what will be a seasonal menu. Entrees, ranging in price from $16 to $32, will include chicken paillard, Wagyu hanger steak, and pan-roasted halibut. Other offerings include a wide selection of seafood, cheeses, and desserts.

The restaurant, set to debut in late September, will offer dinner six nights a week, while Sabrage will be open on weekends and for special events. The sound system, designed by Harman Luxury Audio Group in California, was custom-built to the space.

“Harman typically designs sound systems for concert halls and stadiums,” Belen says. “When they saw the order for Sabrage, they couldn’t believe it was from Michigan. That’s our goal, to bring something unique to the region.” db