Sunday, January 24, 2010

RIP, fish tacos

This week, one of our favorite local businesses called it a day. No ceremony, no announcements. Just paper plastered over the windows and the menus and reviews removed from the door.

It's one more reminder that times are tough, especially over here to the west. There's no meaningful foot traffic along that stretch, and the surrounding commercial district seems to be on life support. The place never really had a chance.

Still, we're grieving a little. In the beginning, the place held such promise. A new Mexican restaurant with stellar mol├ęs and a focus on seafood put our little neighborhood on the map. I remember one night waiting 90 minutes for a table. It was packed in there, and the staff was sorely unprepared to handle the crowd. We finally gave up and went to a taqueria down the street. But we cheered their success and looked forward to our next visit. And our next. And our next.

We came to know the staff by name, and they occasionally brought us a free appetizer or honey-soaked order of flan. In summers, we'd seek refuge on their back patio (they had a speedboat cut in half lengthwise and used it as a planter). We took our families there when they visited, met friends for margaritas, even did occasional community organizing over their renowned fish tacos and homemade salsas and tortillas. A local food forum hailed them a Great Neighborhood Restaurant, and the framed award hung on the wall amidst brightly painted canvases of grouper and red snapper.

Most importantly, they were good people. They knew who they were and where they were situated. Every staff member was a native Spanish speaker. They had many dishes on the menu affordable to working families. Their crowd was diverse and they worked to preserve that.

Their departure comes on the heels of a major economic-development boom 6 blocks to the east. January brought us a new gastropub. In February a microbrewery will open its doors. March brings the promise of Neapolitan pizza and by May a creperie & French bakery. These aren't unwelcome developments, to be truthful, but I can't help feeling like the line between the haves and have nots is getting starker in this neighborhood. You could draw it right down the map, right down Kimball Avenue or Central Park. The ink wouldn't fade for another ten years.

I fear more closures may be coming over here. Evidence seems to be pointing that way. So we brace ourselves for the ghost-town effect. Boarded-up buildings and weird, fly-by-night businesses that come and go every month. More opportunity for open-air drug dealing and other forms of troublemaking. Not enough watchful eyes to keep the bedlam tempered.

Meanwhile, six blocks to the east, people will wait in their finery for a table at one of these storied new places. The gastropub already clocks a two-hour wait. Their charcuterie is reportedly outstanding, and they'll be opening a boutique hotel on their second floor this spring. The new microbrewery was featured in an article on interior design, and they're not even open yet.

I suppose we'll continue to straddle these worlds: appreciators of a well-mixed cocktail one day, an oily bowl of pozole the next. But what we'll miss is a place that showed us something reassuring: that it was possible to bring these worlds together now and then.


kkurtz said...

sadly, this is nothing new.
after 23 years in this city, I've been forced by gentrification to migrate from neighborhood to neighborhood more times than I care to remember.
it's an inevitable force that steamrolls the little guy (& their businesses) who doesn't get out of the way to make room for the yuppies & their bulging wallets full of expendable income.
even a so called "down economy" is no deterrent.

Rosemary said...

The loss of a good fish taco is something to mourn, indeed. Hope the taqueria you retreated to when the now-defunct place was full is still around!

Lynn Stevens said...

kkurtz, location and the economy were the downfall here, not yuppies and expendable income. A combination of foot traffic and expendable income would have helped the business.

kkurtz said...

too true, Lynn.
my statement was made inartfully.
I wasn't referring to paying customers, which no business would
deny, but more the outside businesses that force out the local entrepreneurs.

berdawn said...

sorry to hear about this. Hope the owners are back on their feet again, soon.