This has been a tough year for America’s once-celebrated bastions of fine dining.
Last Thursday, the owners of Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia announced that the restaurant would be “retiring.” Opened in 1970 by legendary restaurateur Georges Perrier, Le Bec Fin was one of America’s best French restaurants during a period when the culinary world began and ended with French cooking. Perrier stepped down last March, and the new ownership struggled with a dinosaur on the edge of the tar pits---opulent décor, a $150 per person prix fixe, and a style of dining that had become unfashionable. An establishment serving “progressive American cuisine” will open on the premises.
Boston’s Locke-Ober closed its doors last October. Founded in 1875, the restaurant had been the symbol of upscale dining for generations, and had served everyone from John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger to James Cagney and Paul Newman before losing a decade-long effort to remain relevant.
If that’s not enough bad news, consider this:
Since 1959, The Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan’s iconic Seagram Building has been the ultimate symbol of the New York lifestyle. The place combines remarkable food with stunning décor: a large pool and fountain in the center of the main dining room, metal chain curtains that ripple gently in the breeze, and priceless artwork including two of the world’s largest Picasso tapestries.
However, there’s trouble on the horizon. The owners of the Seagram Building recently refinanced their mortgage, which prompted the participating banks to examine the tenants’ leases. They discovered that The Four Seasons is paying $20 per square foot---well below the $125 market rate---and are insisting that the rent be adjusted when the lease expires in 2016. If that were to happen, the restaurant could not possibly survive.
The one glimmer of hope is that The Four Seasons is classified as a New York City historical landmark, meaning that nothing in the physical structure can be altered or changed. This may prove to be a valuable bargaining chip in the upcoming negotiations.
It’s true that you can’t fight progress---open kitchens, cooks with baseball caps turned backwards on their heads, and voluble servers named Todd. In this landscape, though, it’s getting harder and harder to find the glory of yesteryear.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to amazon.com