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 molés 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.