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The 21 Saddest Restaurant Closings of the Year (So Far)

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One month ago, it was time to take a hopeful look at the the most anticipated new restaurants of 2012. Now, things turn a bit more somber as we focus on 21 restaurants across the country that have closed or have announced impending shutterings since the beginning of this year. There's plenty to miss: a wave of Chicago veterans (Sushi Wabi, Charlie Trotter's, Crofton On Wells), an ambitious but ill-fated San Francisco project from Russell Jackson (Lafitte), a restaurant that never saw the light of day (con?t, in Houston), and a fine dining powerhouse (Le Bec-Fin). And there's one in there that probably isn't missed but was enough of a spectacle to merit bumping this list from 20 to 21.

Many thanks to the Eater city editors for their input. And please note that these are grouped by city but unranked in level of sadness.


Palate Food + Wine

Location: Glendale, California
Chef: Octavio Becerra
Year Opened: 2008
Closed: March 26, 2012

After four years in business, the celebrated Palate Food + Wine (Esquire's Best New Restaurants 2008) from chef Octavio Becerra closed. A sign on the door at first stated that it had temporarily closed for "re-organization," but it soon was revealed that it was all over, with Becerra stating that the "dream that was palate was no longer sustainable." It got a bit messy, with employees publicly claiming that they had been given no warning of the impending shutter.
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The Tar Pit

Location: Los Angeles
Chef: Mark Peel
Year Opened: 2009
Closed: March 3, 2012

Mark Peel, the acclaimed chef of Campanile, was having success at this La Brea spot that he opened with New York mixologist Audrey Saunders of Pegu club. The thing is, his landlord apparently wasn't as into it. Said Peel: "Our landlord wants a very unreasonable amount of rent. She has a lot of empty spaces in the building, [and] her unwillingness to come down even one dollar will mean she will have one more."
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Sushi Nozawa

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Chef: Kazunomi Nozawa
Year Opened: 1987
Closed: February 29, 2012

Famous for its no cell phone, no children, no sending anything back policy, Sushi Nozawa in Studio City was one of the first top-notch traditional omakase sushi parlors in Los Angeles. After 25 years of absolutely killing it, Kazunomi Nozawa decided to step away from the game. The space will be turned into an outpost of his more casual chainlet SugarFISH.
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6. con?t

Location: Houston, Texas
Chef: Randy Rucker
Year Opened: Never did
Closed: April 23, 2012

This project from Beard-nominated chef Randy Rucker in the Museum District was among the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year and it came so very close to debuting — until plans suddenly halted just days ago. The location will obviously not be 5219 Caroline Street anymore and Rucker told the Chronicle's food critic Alison Cook that he and the investor have gone "their separate ways." However, all hope is not lost: in a blog post about the change in plans, Rucker writes, "restaurant con?t is not dead."
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Le Gourmand

Location: Seattle, Washington
Chef: Bruce Naftaly
Year Opened: 1985
Closing: June 30, 2012

Bruce Naftaly, a mentor to many cooks in Puget Sound and a beloved figure in the Seattle dining scene, will close Le Gourmand and its attendant cocktail bar Sambar on June 30 after 27 years at the helm. Naftaly told Seattle Met's Allecia Vermillion that the daily rigors of being an owner/chef for all these years had been tiring. After he retires in June, he plans to write a cookbook and continue cooking classes.
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Charlie Trotter's

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Charlie Trotter
Year Opened: 1987
Closing: August 31, 2012

On December 31, 2011, Chicago fine dining pioneer Charlie Trotter announced that he would be closing his eponymous restaurant on August 31, 2012, after 25 years in business. Trotter explained that closing the 120-seat fine-dining eatery was not for financial reasons. He felt it was the right time and explained that he wants to take a sabbatical and travel the world with his wife, Rochelle. "I just had to put the flag in the sand and say I’ve got to go for this; otherwise, I never will," Trotter told the paper. He'll also be pursuing graduate studies in philosophy and political theory. You've still got more than three months to squeeze in one last meal.
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Crofton On Wells

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chef: Suzy Crofton
Year Opened: 1997
Closed: April 9, 2012

Chef/owner Suzy Crofton permanently shut the door to her New American restaurant Crofton On Wells after nearly fifteen years in business. The restaurant had recently lost its one Michelin star, and business was not great. Said Crofton: "Last year we had a good year, but this year has been painfully slow. I decided the best thing to do was to shut my doors and re-concept the restaurant to make if more accessible."
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Caffe de Luca

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Year Opened: 1999
Closing: End of May or early June

On the cusp of its 13th anniversary, Caffe de Luca announced that it would close at the end of May or in early June. The popular Bucktown cafe, which has a charming and rustic interior, was a favorite for pizza, panini, and specialty coffees. When reached for comment by Eater Chicago, a manager said he didn't really know why the owners decided to close, but that it's a "complicated answer." Its Forest Park location remains open.
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Sushi Wabi

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Year Opened: 2011
Closed: April 21, 2012

As evidenced by the three previous entries, it's been tough for veteran restaurants in Chicago these past few months. The sad wave is solidified by the shuttering of West Loop restaurant Sushi Wabi, a great Japanese spot in a city without too many of those. It pretty much closed overnight. Co-owner Angela Lee claimed it was due to losing the lease on the space, but one of the partners' brothers — it's kind of complicated — wrote in to say that Lee had decided not to renew the lease. All murky and all rather unfortunate.
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Location: Washington, DC
Chef: Michel Richard
Year Opened: 2011
Closed: February 19, 2012

Michel Richard's eponymous restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner shuttered last month, only one year after its debut. It's a cursed restaurant space, and despite the fact that reps declined to comment on the closure, Richard hinted at problems in a 2011 interview: "I don't like to fail. And we're going to do everything we can. We closed for lunch. Lunch wasn't very busy, and you have competition with the mall. But dinner is OK and we're open for breakfast, too. Here I feel like most of our customers come from the hotel. When the hotel is packed, we're busy. When the hotel is kind of slow, we are slow. I don't know what to do."
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East Side Drive-In

Location: Austin, Texas
Year Opened: 2009
Closing: TBD, but within the next few months

Owner Richard Kooris' East Side Drive-In was not a restaurant per se but rather a nice little area on East 6th with a whole lot of food trucks. The trailers need to make room for developers moving forward with plans to erect condos on the property, and so Bits & Druthers, Mati Greek, Pig Vicious, the Love Balls Bus, Pueblo Viejo, and more have gotten the boot and need to find new sites.
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Location: Dallas, Texas
Chef: Anthony Bombaci
Year Opened: 2005
Closed: June 9, 2012

In June, Nana Restaurant at the Hilton Anatole will close its doors. The restaurant had earned praise for its dining room, with sweeping views of the city, as well as its occasionally playful, always delicious American food from chef Anthony Bombaci. To replace it is the unfortunately named S?r (pronounced “sear”), and it's set to open October 1, 2012 with Anthony Van Camp heading the kitchen.
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Le Bec-Fin

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Year Opened: 1970
Closed: March 3, 2012

The shuttering of Le Bec-Fin is perhaps the most publicized restaurant closing of the year so far. Owner and founder Georges Perrier had originally established a more drawn-out timeline for closing the restaurant, but in late February, it was suddenly announced that it would close after service on March 3rd. This was an old school fine dining restaurant, which is a tough thing to sell these days, and it was losing money at an epic clip. It will reopen under new owner Nicolas Fanucci and chef Walter Abrams.
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Daddy Bruce's Bar-B-Que

Location: Boulder, Colorado
Year Opened: 1963
Closed: March 24, 2012

After more than three decades of serving BBQ at 2000 Arapahoe Ave., the iconic Daddy Bruce's Bar-B-Que closed at the end of last month. Owner Bruce Randolph Jr. told the Daily Camera that he sold the property because business was just too slow. "There was an accumulation of bills and no income coming in," he said. "You could sit here and let them turn the lights out on you, or you got to make a decision."
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Location: San Francisco, California
Chef: Russell Jackson
Year Opened: 2010
Closed: April 15, 2012

Chef Russell Jackson, who has earned a reputation for taking bold but not always successful gastronautic risks, has closed his Embarcadero restaurant Lafitte after two years in business. Chronicle critic Michael Bauer didn't like the place in the beginning, taking aim at the unevenness of Jackson's "menu of logic," which basically called for a completely different menu every night. Bauer did issue a solid re-review in July of last year, but it all wasn't enough to drive business. Jackson says he will bring his dinner club concept SubCulture to New York at some point this year.
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Location: San Francisco, California
Year Opened: 2006
Closed: April 30, 2012

The very well-liked Bushi-Tei in San Francisco Japantown will be no more at the end of this month. The restaurant had earned acclaim and a following for its precise and elegant French/Japanese cuisine, but it got bleak in February with the news that owner Tak Matsuba had put the place on the market and that his chef, Michael Hung, would be leaving the restaurant.
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Floating Rock

Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Year Opened: 2011
Closed: February 21, 2012

This Cambodian restaurant started as a food nerd destination outside of the city, but then made the move to Central Square, with a new image and higher prices. After ten months, it just didn't pan out. The owners didn't publicly discuss the reasons for the shuttering. Says Eater Boston editor Aaron Kagan: "People loved the original, hated this one."
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Masten Lake

Location: New York, New York
Chef: Angelo Romano
Year Opened: 2011
Closed: February 21, 2012

This one was a real and unfortunate surprise: back in February the owner of ambitious Bedford Avenue restaurant Masten Lake told Eater New York's Amanda Kludt that his seven month-old spot would close immediately. "We just reached a point where we couldn't sustain it any more," owner David Rosen said. "We tried hard and made some mistakes along the way but I'm proud of what we've done and Angelo will find continued success." That Angelo is chef Angelo Romano, a Roberta's vet who won over the restaurant's fans with some inventive dishes and esoteric plating.
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Bar Basque

Location: New York, NY
Chef: Yuhi Fujinaga
Year Opened: 2010
Closed: April 30, 2012

This Syd-Mead designed Spanish project from restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow will close at the end of April. Apart from the fact that it was a hotel restaurant, which in New York can be a challenge in and of itself, the design was enough of a turnoff to deter people from trying chef Yuhi Fujinaga's very nice Basque food. Man, it's a weird-looking one.
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Bill's Gay Nineties

Location: New York, NY
Year Opened: 1924
Closed: March 24, 2012

Bill's Gay Nineties, the classic Midtown bar and restaurant stuffed to the brim with old boxing mementos and other paraphernalia collected over its last 90 years in business, closed at the end of March. There had been rumors towards the end of 2011 that chef John DeLucie would be buying the space, and later the Bill's filed for bankruptcy and the building was sold. What everyone pretty much knew was coming was confirmed in early March, when a bartender told Tripping with Marty that the business' last day would be March 24. The owners plan on relocating the operation.
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Location: New York, NY
Chef: Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera
Year Opened: 2011
Closed: March 10, 2012

For most people, the shuttering of Romera is far from sad. The whole saga of the restaurant, however, was a mess worth noting. Short-form: in the fall of 2011, Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera, who has a Michelin star at his restaurant in Spain, brought "neurogastronomy" to a subterranean space in the Dream Hotel, replete with stethoscopes in the waiting room and "ingredient-driven waters." The critics didn't dig it, and many saw it as a pretentious move into a city that isn't the easiest on outsider chefs.
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